Minnesota vs. West Virginia: 5 reasons the Gophers will win the Guaranteed Rate Bowl
Minnesota is looking to continue an impressive streak when it hits the field against West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Tuesday night.
The Gophers will enter the postseason having won 4 straight bowl games. With a win over the Mountaineers, they’ll make it 5 consecutive victories and a perfect 3-0 mark under head coach PJ Fleck. The last loss came in the 2014 Citrus Bowl to Missouri.
After an 8-4 campaign in the regular season, Minnesota will have a strong chance to register its ninth win and keep its postseason winning streak alive. Here are 5 reasons while the Gophers can take down West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Tuesday night:
The run game
One of the best stories of the B1G season was Minnesota’s ability to move the football on the ground despite losing a slew of running backs, including Top 2 ball carriers Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts. It’s a credit to the strong offensive line play and PJ Fleck’s emphasis on establishing a strong ground presence.
Ky Thomas led the way for the Golden Gophers, totaling 680 yards and 5 touchdowns. Mar’Keise Irving also had a solid year, churning out 570 yards and hitting the end zone 4 times during Minnesota’s 8-4 campaign. Plus, that big offensive front should be able to move West Virginia’s defense around the field.
West Virginia’s run defense fared well during the year, allowing just 129.6 yards per game on the ground. However, Maryland, Baylor, Iowa State, TCU, Kansas State and Texas did find some success running the ball against the Mountaineers.
An offense that averaged better than 190 yards per game on the ground should be able to move the ball effectively on the ground on Tuesday night.
A fresh voice at offensive coordinator
The Mike Sanford Jr. experiment didn’t quite work out for Minnesota. Kirk Ciarrocca won’t be back calling the offense until spring, but having a new voice on the headset may bode well for the Golden Gophers.
Wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator Matt Simon will be in charge of calling the plays in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Fleck will probably be heavily involved in that side of the ball, too, which would be a good thing for the Gophers offense.
At times during the season, the offense looked clunky and the play-calling was questionable. With a new voice in charge, Minnesota might be able to play more to its strengths.
Shutting down the passing attack
West Virginia was really good at moving the ball through the air this season, thanks to the play of Jarrett Doege. The Mountaineers quarterback threw for 2,908 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing nearly 66% of his passes. He’s had some really talented targets this season, with Winston Wright Jr., Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Sam James, Sean Ryan and Isaiah Esdale all totaling more than 390 receiving yards.
But defending the pass was one of Minnesota’s greatest strengths.
Minnesota allowed just 184.7 yards per game through the air during the season, ranking No. 2 in the B1G and No. 9 nationally. Only one opponent (Purdue) exceeded 300 passing yards this year and the Gophers held 7 offenses under 200 yards.
This will be a strength-on-strength matchup between West Virginia and Minnesota. And the Gophers have probably seen much more potent passing attacks in the B1G than what the Mountaineers bring to the postseason.
The turnover battle
West Virginia was one of the nation’s worst teams when it comes to turnover margin. The Mountaineers rounded out the year with only 11 takeaways while turning the football over 19 times. That -8 ranked 113th in the FBS ranks.
Minnesota wasn’t exactly a force in the turnover category, but the Gophers did protect the football fairly well. The Gophers finished with 1 turnover or less in 8 games this year and ended the year losing the ball just 11 times.
If the Gophers continue to protect the football, they’ll be in great position to notch a bowl victory.
Mountaineers top RB opts out
Leddie Brown’s decision to opt out of the Guaranteed Rate Bowl is a huge damper for the Mountaineers. He rushed for 1,065 yards and 13 touchdowns and also added 217 receiving yards and a score in the passing game. His absence is going to make West Virginia’s offense pretty one-dimensional.
Tony Mathis Jr. is the next-best option out of the backfield for West Virginia, but he carried the ball just 59 times for 256 yards. He did not reach the end zone.