Before each Minnesota football game, GopherIllustrated will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Indiana State beat writer James Lafary of ESPN Radio at Indiana State (Terre Haute, Indiana) to preview the Gophers' Week 2 home game against the Indiana State Sycamores of the Missouri Valley conference.
1) Indiana State isn't currently ranked in the FCS coaches poll, but what are the expectations for the Sycamores this season after starting off the season with a victory?
JF: Indiana State's mix of veterans and newcomers certainly displayed its fair share of positives in a win over Butler last Saturday but the Sycamores still have plenty of work to do in the early weeks of the season. The best word to describe this 2016 squad perhaps is "potential." ISU has plenty of it but capitalizing on it will require a tune-up at some positions and fixing some of the weak spots from Week 1.
2) There's been a lot of talk about quarterback Isaac Harker in the Indiana State media, how good is Harker really?
JF: Harker was named the starting quarterback right at kickoff on Saturday, winning the offseason QB battle over Wyoming transfer Aaron Young and the redshirt sophomore didn't disappoint. Despite some inconsistencies in the first half, Harker flourished in the final two quarters, throwing for over 200 yards in the second half en route to 315 yards for the game. His arm strength is nothing to write home about, but Harker is an intelligent quarterback with a great football IQ. Game management is his greatest strength.
3) The Sycamores put up 41 points in their opening week win against Butler, what's going to be the keys for the offense if they're going to try and duplicate that performance on Saturday?
JF: Against an FBS school in Minnesota, Indiana State will need to fully utilize its arsenal of offensive weapons in order to pull off a road victory against the Golden Gophers. On the ground, Dimitri Taylor was a pleasant surprise last Saturday but his backfield mate Roland Genesey will have to equal Taylor's production and play a consistent four quarters. In the air, to keep Harker on the rise and on the field, his wide receiving group will have to extend beyond providing just two legitimate targets. Robert Tonyan Jr. and Bob Pugh combined for over 180 yards against Butler but it will be key for a guy like veteran Sampson Levingston to step up and be a third target to stretch out the Minnesota defense.
4) What are the strengths of the Sycamores' defense and who are a few names to keep an eye on for the game this Saturday?
JF: Indiana State forced four turnovers last Saturday and up until late in the second half, did a relatively good job of keeping Butler's offense off the field. Senior defensive Tsali Lough played a hand in three of those turnovers last week, including an interception and a fumble recovery that was taken back 100 yards for a score. Veteran Jameer Thurman anchors the defense along with Conlan Cassidy, Lonnell Brown, and Phil Wilson.
5) What are the keys for Indiana State if they're going to beat the Gophers, and what's your prediction for the Indiana State vs. Minnesota game and why?
-Utilize all weapons
-Control the tempo and manage the clock
-Avoid unnecessary penalties
-Force three and outs
-Continue to fly around, force turnovers
Prediction: It's an Indiana State team that is still looking to finalize an identity on the field and continuing to learn. A win on the road against a Big 10 school is not out of the question but perhaps this game can be best used as a learning experience early in the 2016 season.
Final Score: Minnesota 34-17