Breaking it down: Gophers set to tee off on Kent State
Who: Kent State vs. Minnesota
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Minnesota -24
Matchup to watch: Rodney Smith vs. Nate Holley
A running back vs. a safety? When are they going to face off? Well, in order for Kent State to have any chance against Minnesota, the defense going to have to get creative. Sending Holley, one of the nation’s top tackling threats at the position, to blitz a freshman running back would make perfect sense. Jerry Kill is going to want to pound the football and utilize the obvious advantage his team has up front. Simply lining up four down linemen won’t work against the Gophers. With Minnesota’s lack of true downfield options, Holley might be better used trying to plug the gaps against an emerging running back.
Thing I’m excited for: Minnesota secondary going off
Now I’m not saying I think Colin Reardon is bad at his job. But watching the way he struggled against Illinois made me think about how much more he’ll struggle against Minnesota. Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray are the No-Fly-Zone 2.0. After two games — one of which against the Heisman Trophy favorite — the Gophers are allowing just 5.2 yards per pass attempt. Against one of the worst teams in FBS, Minnesota’s dynamic duo is going to have the opportunity to take some gambles. Don’t be surprised if a pick-six is what gets the Gophers rolling early.
Number to remember: 268-6
That’s how much Kent State has been outscored in its last six meetings against Big Ten teams. For Minnesota, that means there are no excuses not to look dominant. Mitch Leidner has no reason not to complete 60 percent of his passes. The Gopher pass rush, even if it chooses not to blitz much, should have a handful of sacks by game’s end. Rodrick Williams — a guy who has taken a back seat to Smith — should have his first big game getting all the carries when this one is lopsided in the second half. Minnesota’s offense has been given a bit of a pass because of two tough games to start the season. In one of its rare cupcakes, the Gophers need to show they can put some points up and look good doing it.
Prediction: Minnesota 42, Kent State 7
In case you couldn’t tell, the Gophers should win this one convincingly. I’ll predict they score a touchdown in all three phases, too. Minnesota is the only Big Ten team that doesn’t have a double-digit win, largely because their strength of schedule has been the best in the conference. Either way, the Gophers get their first comfortable victory of 2015.