The first meeting between the Gophers and Auburn provides Minnesota a chance for a statement win against an SEC power. But the Gophers must overcome a powerful rushing game and imposing defense to have that moment in the Florida sun with a New Year’s Day bowl triumph.
THREE BIG STORY LINES
Daniel Faalele, the Gophers’ 6-9, 400-pound right tackle, has a lower left leg injury, and Gophers coach P.J. Fleck called him a game-time decision. The Gophers offensive line will need all six of its rotating linemen to compete with a hefty Auburn defensive line.
Auburn’s offensive strength is on the ground, where it averages 211 yards per game and ranks 20th in the nation with 30 rushing scores. The Tigers cycle through backs and also use quarterback Bo Nix to rush, so there are many weapons the Gophers defense must neutralize.
Only one player on each team will skip this bowl game, meaning Auburn’s 25 seniors and the Gophers’ 13 will go all out to end their careers with an Outback Bowl title.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Gophers receivers vs. Auburn’s secondary
Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson might need to carry the offensive load, as the way to expose Auburn’s defense would be through the air. The 1,000-yard receivers will face defensive backs who hold opponents to 5.9 yards per catch.
Gophers’ Sam Schlueter vs. Auburn’s Derrick Brown
The left tackle has been one of the most improved players for the Gophers this season, but he and the rest of the offensive line will have to stop the SEC Defensive Player of the Year from toppling quarterback Tanner Morgan. Brown, a defensive end, will also have help from Marlon Davidson and Big Kat Bryant.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
13 Fumble recoveries by Auburn this season, ranking third in the nation. Auburn also has forced 15 fumbles, ranking eighth. The Gophers make winning the turnover margin a focus and have lost only seven fumbles this year.
THE GOPHERS WILL WIN IF …
The offense finds a way around Auburn’s defense. That’s been the Tigers’ strength all season, especially at defensive line. If the Gophers can’t run the ball, the offensive line will at least need to give Morgan time to throw in Johnson’s or Bateman’s vicinity.
AUBURN WILL WIN IF …
It continues the peak form in which it ended the regular season. Auburn is the only team to play five of the top 13 teams this season, having taken on LSU, Georgia, Oregon, Florida and Alabama. The Tigers are certainly tested.
Auburn 34, Gophers 30