Finally, it’s college football season. The doldrums of the offseason are gone, and TCU is starting off its season against a quality Big Ten opponent in Minnesota.
A lot of people expect TCU to win big on the road, which isn’t a surprising call. Vegas has TCU favored by 17 points, possibly influenced by the 30-7 shellacking the Frogs gave the Gophers last year in Fort Worth.
Scheme-wise, it would be reasonable to expect that TCU’s offense should overpower the Minnesota defense again, and it is also reasonable to expect that Minnesota’s slow offense won’t be able to match the speed of TCU’s defense.
The Golden Gophers, coached by Gary Patterson’s best friend Jerry Kill, is run-based offense that utilizes a lot of the running game to eat up the clock. Additionally, they run a standard 4-3 defense with man coverage, often with switching a linebacker out for nickel safety in passing situations.
In both cases, that’s good for the Horned Frogs.
THE MINNESOTA OFFENSE
The offensive scheme for the Golden Gophers is a dream come true for TCU’s young defense. Although the defense will not have a few starters playing - as vaguely referenced by Patterson in his weekly press conference - Minnesota’s run-first set up should be a marvelous teaching tool for new linebackers Mike Freeze, Ty Summers and Montrel Wilson.
If James McFarland doesn’t play (he is rumored to be injured and was not on TCU’s first depth chart), expect the 6’6, 275 pound sophomore Bryson Henderson and multi-year letterman Josh Caraway to shore up the position at left end.
With that speed on the front six, the Frogs should help overcome the running game of the Gophers. Already depleted with the graduations of running backs David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota will utilize up to three underclassmen and senior Rodrick Williams to replace their production of 20 touchdowns and 1,700+ rushing yards.
Williams, a Lewisville (TX) High School product, will be the main focus of this Minnesota offense. He ran for 114 yards and three touchdowns for the Gophers last year, and traditionally runs as a hole-finder with bursts of speed. Whether he can bruise and cruise like Cobb last year is still a valid question, but without Maxx Williams to relieve with receptions at tight end, Minnesota needs to find a quality first-option in the run game.
Speaking of Williams, the passing game should be very limited for the Gophers this upcoming season. Traditionally shored up by tight ends who can block or catch, Minnesota will miss the 61 receptions and 13 touchdowns Williams put together last year.
There’s not much in the receiver front, with Drew Wolitarsky being the main flank wideout who returns for the Gophers this year. Quarterback Mitch Leidner operates often in a running pattern, similar to 2012’s Collin Klein out of Kansas State.
He certainly can throw, but the run game is Leidner’s and Minnesota’s favorite type of game. Last season, Leidner threw for 1,798 yards and rushed for 452 yards on 126 carries. He also tied a school record for quarterbacks with 10 rushing touchdowns.
In order for TCU’s defense to get the win, the Frogs young linebackers need to pick up their assignments on the run and safeties Derrick Kindred, Kenny Iloka and Denzel Johnson need to not bite on the play-action or allow Minnesota’s tight ends to make space.
There should be some lapses of judgement from TCU’s defense given the newness of this squad, but it’s hard to imagine that with literally hundreds of days to prepare that Patterson’s defensive set isn’t ready to go. Expect very few scoring opportunities to be given to Minnesota.
THE MINNESOTA DEFENSE
On the flip side, Minnesota’s great question on the defense is about their secondary and linebackers.
As previously stated, the Gophers utilize a 4-3 defense, meaning they use four defensive linemen, three linebackers (mike, sam and will positions) and four defensive backs (two corners and two safeties).
In looking at who returns, TCU most has to fear cornerback Eric Murray, who Patterson called “probably the best cornerback TCU played last year.” Murray, a second-team All-Big Ten corner, contributed 69 tackles, seven pass breakups and two blocked punts to the Gophers last year.
Along with opposite cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhounk, both upperclassmen play excellent island coverage, meaning that TCU will have to utilize several plays off the play-action and keep Minnesota’s linebackers in check by opening up the slot.
Minnesota features two outstanding outside linebackers in De’Vondre Campbell and Jack Lynn, but they do have to replace mainstay feature Damien Wilson, the inside linebacker who led the team in tackles, tackles-for-loss and sacks last year. Cody Poock, a JUCO transfer from Iowa Western who sat out last year due to injury, will replace him.
While Minnesota has talent on their defense, there has yet to be a defense that can slow down TCU’s offense. Minnesota came the closest to that last year, allowing 30 points and 427 yards of offense.
Given that TCU returns nearly every starter from their high-octane offense from last year, it’s a difficult concept to imagine that TCU won’t be able to cause some serious damage to Minnesota’s middle. Expect running back Aaron Green to set the tone for the game, with receivers Kolby Listenbee and Josh Doctson ripping the defense deep in man coverage for plays that will keep Minnesota on its toes.
FINAL THOUGHTSGiven the schemes of these two opponents, TCU holds the clear advantage on both sides of the ball. While TCU should dominate this game, Patterson has too much respect for Kill to run up the score. The Frogs could very well hang 40+ on Minnesota, but Patterson will force the offense to let up on the gas after there’s a comfortable lead. Expect no more than 35 points from TCU, and expect Gary to be very mad at his young defense when they allow plays for Minnesota.
PREDICTION: TCU 35, Minnesota 10