Indiana State (1-0) vs. Minnesota (1-0)
Time: 11:00 A.M CT, Saturday, September 10th
TV: ESPNews - Mike Couzens (Play by Play) and Dan Hawkins
Last week: Indiana State defeated Butler 41-25, and Minnesota defeated Oregon State 30-23
All-time series: Gophers lead the series 2-0 (27-10 Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1993)
Vegas betting line: Minnesota (-23)
Know Your Enemy: Five questions with Indiana State beat writer James Lafary
Five things you need to know
1. Minnesota welcomes the Indiana State Sycamores to TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 10, in a meeting of 1-0 teams. Minnesota topped Oregon State 30-23 on Thursday, Sept. 1 at home and Indiana State beat in-state rival Butler at home 41-25. This will be the third meeting between the Gophers and Sycamores. Minnesota leads the all-time series 2-0, posting home wins in 1989 (34-12) and 1993 (27-10). Indiana State plays in the competitive Missouri Valley Conference, which posted a 7-3 record in the first week of play. The conference’s signature win in the first week came when Northern Iowa beat Iowa State 25-20. South Dakota State provided a challenge for No. 13 TCU before falling 59-41 on the road. Minnesota’s last game against a Missouri Valley opponent was in 2013 when it beat Western Illinois 29-12 at home.
2. Minnesota is 1-0 this year after beating Oregon State 30-23 in the 50th game played at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 1 (Gophers are 27-23 at TCF Bank Stadium). The victory against Oregon State was Minnesota’s first win against a team from the Pac-12 since Dec. 31, 2003, when the Gophers beat Oregon 31-30 in the Sun Bowl. The win was the first for the Gophers in the regular season against a Pac-12 opponent since they dropped California 32-23 on Sept. 19, 1987 (Gophers previously lost their last five regular season games against Pac-12). The win was also Minnesota’s first against a non-conference power five school (snapped a four-game losing streak) since Sept. 22, 2012, when it beat Syracuse 17-10.
3. When head coach Tracy Claeys hired Jay Johnson to be his new offensive coordinator, he said he wanted more points out of his offense and that the minimum should be 28 point a game. He got the output he was looking for against Oregon State as the Gophers scored 30 in their first game running Johnson’s offense. The 30 points is the most that Minnesota has scored in a non-conference game against a power five opponent since it hung 53 on Iowa State in 1997. In the eight qualifying games since, the most points Minnesota scored was 23 at Syracuse in 2009 in an overtime game.
4. Quarterback Mitch Leidner ran for two scores in Minnesota’s win against Oregon State and now has 25 career rushing touchdowns, which is the most in program history for a signal-caller (fifth for any player). Rickey Foggie, who played from 1984-87 previously held the mark with 24. Leidner has rushed for 1,205 career yards, but has spanned only 113 yards in collecting his 25 scores. Eleven of his touchdowns have been 1-yard bursts and 18 have been five yards or less. The longest scoring run of his career is 24 yards.
5. The Gophers have senior leaders in Mitch Leidner, Damarius Travis and Jack Lynn, but also only have 13 seniors/grad students on its roster. Those 13 represent the third smallest group of seniors/grad students in major college football (Kentucky 11, Penn State, Baylor 12). Of those 13, only three play on offense side in quarterback Leidner, receiver Drew Wolitarsky and lineman Jonah Pirsig. Those three seniors represent the fewest number in major college football (Troy, Old Dominion, Florida and South Carolina have four).
Indiana State players to watch
1) Isaac Harker, quarterback: 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.
2) Robert Tonyan, wide receiver: Tonyan was the leading receiver in the Sycamores' first game last week ending the game with seven catches for 92 yards. Game script would likely put Indiana State behind, which means that Tonyan could be seeing a ton of targets heading his way.
3) Kenyota Rollins, defensive lineman : Rollins was exceptional last week in Indiana State's victory over Butler, acculuating five tackles, plus three tackles for loss, a sack and forced fumble as well. Rollins should be a good test for this Minnesota offensive line.
Keys to the game
1. Quick start: Far too often last year Minnesota would get behind early and have to play from behind time after time. The Gophers in the first quarter last season were outscored by a total of 75-37, but in the last three quarters of games last year, the Gophers actually outscored their opponents 255-252. That trend is off to the same start as last season as Minnesota was outscored 7-0 in the first quarter last week. Getting ahead early, and preferably by double digits to a FCS school is going to dash any hope that they can potentially pull off the upset. The Gophers need to start converting early in games and there's no better time to start doing so than this week.
2. Get the passing game going: 130 yards with a 50% competition percentage is nothing to write home about, and I expect to see Minnesota take some shots down the field again this week. Minnesota lost starting X wide receiver Rashad Still last week to injury, and he'll be out for a few weeks yet, but the Gophers are potentially getting back Brandon Lingen, Eric Carter, Melvin Holland and Isaiah Gentry, which could provide a boost as well. The play-action game is something I'm going to be watching as if Leidner gets his footwork correct, he could have a big play or two down the field.
3. Stay healthy: It kind of goes without saying that this type of game on Saturday is one that Minnesota should be able to rest some players in the fourth quarter, and with a victory likely within sight, the Gophers number one priority has to be to stay as healthy as possible. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Gopher player get more rest than usual if he gets an injury he'd normally play through in bigger games, knowing that Minnesota's bye is next week and Gophers want to be as healthy as possible following the bye.
The Gophers last three FCS opponents have been New Hampshire in 2012 (44-7 victory), Western Illinois in 2013 (29-12 victory) and Eastern Illinois in 2014 (42-20 victory), and they've outscored those opponents by a margin of 115 to 39. The Vegas line on this game is Minnesota as a 23 point favorite at home, and it's hard to see anything other than that kind of a blowout victory occurring on Saturday morning. I don't foresee the Sycamores passing attack getting going and Minnesota's running game behind Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary should be able to make this a double digit lead before half, with Minnesota pulling away in the second half.