Colorado State(2-1) vs. Minnesota (2-0)
Time: 11:00 A.M CT, Saturday, September 24th
TV: ESPNU - Eamon McAnaney (Play by Play) and John Congemi (Analyst)
Last week: Colorado State defeated Northern Colorado 47-21, and Minnesota had a bye
All-time series: Gophers lead the series 3-0 (Minnesota won 23-20 in overtime in Fort Collins in 2015)
Vegas betting line: Minnesota (-16.5)
Know Your Enemy: Five questions with Colorado State beat writer Ryan Kraus
Five things you need to know
1. Minnesota welcomes the Colorado State Rams to TCF Bank Stadium for am 11 a.m. game on Sept. 24. Minnesota is 3-0 all-time against Colorado State and won 23-20 in overtime last year in Fort Collins. In that game, Ryan Santoso made three field goals, including a game-winning 18-yarder in overtime to lift Minnesota to the win. Rodney Smith also ran for 108 yards and Drew Wolitarsky caught nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Mitch Leidner passed for 233 yards and two scores, as the Gophers snapped Colorado State’s school-record home win streak at 10 games. Minnesota also beat the Rams 34-18 on the road in 2004 and posted a 56-24 home win in 2005.
2. Minnesota is 4-0 against teams from the Mountain West conference at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers opened TCF Bank Stadium in 2009 with a 20-13 win against Air Force and then hosted both UNLV and San Jose State in 2013. Minnesota topped UNLV 51-23 and beat San Jose State 43-24. San Jose State returned to TCF Bank Stadium in 2014 and the Gophers won 24-7. Minnesota, which will also face Fresno State in 2018 and 2019, is 11-3-0 all-time against current teams in the Mountain West. Minnesota’s last loss to a member of the Mountain West was a 17-3 setback at Hawaii on Aug. 30, 1997.
3. The Gophers are 2-0 at home this season after posting wins against Oregon State (first regular season win against a Pac-12 opponent since beating California 32-23 in 1987) and Indiana State. Saturday’s game against Colorado State is Minnesota’s final non-conference game of the season, as the Gophers start conference play at Penn State on Oct. 1. Minnesota opened TCF Bank Stadium with a win against Air Force on Sept. 12, 2009, but was 5-9 at the new facility after the 2010 season. Since then, the Gophers have posted a 23- 14 record at TCF Bank Stadium and are 28-23 at the on-campus venue. Minnesota is 20-10 since the start of the 2012 season at TCF Bank Stadium and is 13-1 in non-conference games during that time (only loss was to No. 2 TCU).
4. Minnesota scored 30 points against Oregon State and 58 versus Indiana State under new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson. The 30 points against the Beavers was the most Minnesota 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. The 58 points against Indiana State were the most for the Gophers since they scored 63 against Indiana in 2006.
5. Minnesota has senior leaders in Mitch Leidner, Damarius Travis and Jack Lynn, but also only has 13 seniors/grad students on its roster. Those 13 represent the third smallest group in major college football (Kentucky 11, Penn State, Baylor 12). Of those 13, only three play on offense in Leidner (QB), Drew Wolitarsky (WR) and Jonah Pirsig (OL). Those three seniors are the fewest in major college football (Troy, Old Dominion, Florida and South Carolina have four)
Colorado State players to watch
1) Collin Hill, quarterback: Hill looks the part of a pure thrower and passed with flying colors in his first start. The former three-star from South Carolina is big, has a strong arm and is very accurate for a first-year player. And while he isn't a dual-threat, he has enough athleticism to move around the pocket. He broke off a 51-yard scoring run last week, but don't expect him to look to run consistently. Perhaps his greatest assets are his intangibles. He's extremely bright, confident, works hard on and off the field, and does what coaches ask of him.
2) Kevin Davis, linebacker: The primary strength is their linebackers, and namely Kevin Davis. The senior middle linebacker is in line for an all-conference season having recorded 32 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles this year.
3) Wyatt Bryan, kicker : The sophomore kicker has been on here for the Rams early on, as he's connected on all five field goal attempts and 8-of-9 PATs. If this game is close, Bryan may be a key factor for the Rams.
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 looking better so far in 2016 as Minnesota is tied with their opponents in the first quarter 14-14, but Colorado State's most productive quarter so far is the first, so Minnesota's got to be ready right away.
2. Get the passing game going: The Gophers were able to open things open in the passing game against Indiana State in their last game with quarterback Mitch Leidner throwing for almost 300 yards and four passing touchdowns, and that's something that's not our of the question going against a struggling Colorado State secondary. The Rams on average through three games are giving up 290 yards through the air and about two passing scores, so this should be good days for Drew Wolitarsky, Brian Smith, Tyler Johnson and Nate Wozniak. I expect a balanced attack from Jay Johnson, but if the passing game gets "hot", I expect a steady dose of the air game.
3. Clean up the penalties: Minnesota has six pre-snap penalties, and 10 overall last week against Indiana State, and that's far too many. The Gophers spent the bye week trying to clean up those false starts and off-sides penalties that have plagued this team through two games, and they need to start fixing those mistakes. Since Tracy Claeys has taken over the head coaching position, he's talked a lot about controlling the things you can control, and these pre-snap penalties fall right into line. Hopefully Minnesota's able to get a win, and take a step in the right direction with their correctable penalties.
Minnesota is 4-0 against teams from the Mountain West conference at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers opened TCF Bank Stadium in 2009 with a 20-13 win against Air Force and then hosted both UNLV and San Jose State in 2013. Minnesota topped UNLV 51-23 and beat San Jose State 43-24. I don't foresee that record changing as the Gophers have found a good thing on offense scoring 88 points through their first two games, and I trust a Claeys and Sawvel defense to keep improving even though the numbers are limited in the secondary right now. Shannon Brooks getting back into the mix will also be a good thing for the team, so I have Minnesota heading to 3-0 on the season Saturday afternoon.