With the Big Ten West at stake, columnist Chip Scoggins will preview each of the Gophers’ final three games. First up: Gophers (7-2, 4-2 West) at Nebraska (7-2, 4-2 West):
If you listed reasons why the Gophers are 7-2, turnover margin belongs at the top. They are ranked third nationally in turnover margin (plus 12), fifth in takeaways (21) and first in fumbles recovered (13).
That’s a sign of a swarming, aggressive defense. Creating turnovers often negates shortcomings in other areas.
It’s not clear whether Huskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong will play after suffering a concussion last week, but he has been turnover prone in his career.
If the Gophers taketh more than they giveth, they will win.
The running game has carried the Gophers throughout their four-game winning streak. That’s a smart strategy, but they need more production from their passing game because they face three of the top six rushing defenses in the Big Ten to close.
The Gophers have 28 rushing touchdowns, eighth-most nationally. Conversely, only two teams in FBS have thrown fewer touchdown passes than the Gophers’ six.
Mitch Leidner passed for 231 yards against Purdue on Saturday. He opened the game by hitting Rashad Still on a deep pass.
If Leidner can eclipse 200 yards passing, the Gophers won’t be so predictable.
Prevent the big play
The Gophers won last week despite allowing touchdown passes of 89 and 60 yards. They probably shouldn’t try that again. The Gophers have a top-35 scoring defense, but they’ve allowed seven plays of 50-plus yards. Explosive plays can change momentum and energize a home crowd, a lesson the Gophers learned at Penn State.
The Gophers can’t afford to have a busted play or miscommunication in the secondary that gives Nebraska a quick score.
Remain calm, carry on
The Gophers have played only one game in a difficult environment — Penn State — and Nittany Lions fans seemed disinterested early.
Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium is a gem. Loyal fans, cool vibe, 90,000 capacity. A prime-time kickoff should create even more energy.
The Gophers need to start fast and play disciplined.
The Huskers have lost two consecutive games, including a 62-3 thumping at Ohio State last week. If they show any hangover effect, doubt could creep in.
The Gophers have to handle crowd noise and eliminate pre-snap penalties that have plagued them. They remain one of the most penalized teams in college football. If that continues, they will reduce their odds of winning considerably.