Much like last year, Minnesota will face a team with a QB who's hyped as a future NFL draft pick in the preseason. Last year the Gopher's beat QB Ryan Nassib's Syracuse team 17-10 in a game that was not as close as the score indicated and despite the absence of then starting QB MarQueis Gray. While Nassib ended up sliding to the 4th round and San Jose State QB David Fales is looking like a fringe 1st rounder at the moment, Nassib likely had more talent around him as well as a coaching staff he was familiar with as San Jose State will welcome Ron Caragher as their new head coach.
The Spartan Offense:
QB David Fales is without a doubt the centerpiece of the Spartan offense. Last year they put up at least forty points in 6 games. The Spartans will have to replace a RB that Gopher fans are very familiar with as he played for the Gophers from ‘08-'10, Deleon Eskridge. Eskridge ran for 1,025 at 5 yards per carry last year despite splitting carries. Eskridge has used up his eligibility and San Jose State lacks a go to back now that he is gone. While San Jose State lacks experience at RB, they have plenty of it on the outside as they return all of their top receivers outside of their starting TE. San Jose State's offensive line returns eight lineman off their two deep, but lose both their starter and backup at LT. They also managed only 113 yards per game at 3.3 yards per carry while playing some very weak competition. They were better in pass protection allowing a total of 13 sacks over 12 of their games last year, but allowed 13 sacks in the Utah State game alone last year. The San Jose State offensive line is also a bit undersized as they don't feature a projected starter over 300 lbs.
The Spartan Defense:
For many years San Jose State's run defense was dreadful. That all changed last year when they improved dramatically allowing just 122 yards per game (18th in the country) at 3.6 yards per carry and had 42 sacks (7th in the country). They do however lose both starting DE's and one starter on the inside at DT as well as a couple key backups, so they will likely struggle this season. They are also a bit small up front as they're front line of defense in the 3-4 scheme doesn't feature a player of 290 lbs. This is SJSU's first year in the 3-4 scheme, so not only will it be an adjustment for the defensive line, but the linebacker's must adjust as well. Linebacker is however a position of strength for the Spartans as they return everyone of importance from a unit that performed very well last year. Last year's Spartan's squad ranked 47th nationally in pass defense and 26th in interceptions with 15 on the year. This year's secondary isn't expected to perform quite as well as last years squad and they are young as the projected starters at SS and one of the CB spots are both true sophomores.
3 Keys to the Game
1. Shut down the Spartan passing attack.Last year the Gopher's faced a Syracuse team two weeks removed from a 322 passing yards game against USC and held them to 228 yards passing and had 2 interceptions to just one TD allowed. If the Gophers can limit Fales like they did Nassib and Western Michigan's Carder, then they should come out with a win.
2. Get the running game going early. If San Jose State is able to shut down the Gopher run game early that could give them the confidence they need to shut down the Gophers later in the game. If Kirkwood and co. can't get it going early, then they may not have the confidence it takes to finish the game strong.
3. Don't turn the ball over. Winning the turnover battle is always a key to coming out with a W, but its doubly important when you're playing a good team. If the Gophers can win the turnover battle, then they should be in good position to win.
27-20 Gophers win. While on paper this game seems quite similar to the Syracuse game last year I believe David Fales is likely a better QB than Ryan Nassib and that the San Jose State defense is likely better as well though they hopefully won't have the luxury of having to defend the backup QB as Syracuse did last year. If the Gophers are able to win this one they will likely be 4-0 headed into a huge homecoming game against the hated Iowa Hawkeyes.