The Gophers are 28-point favorites in this game. They haven’t had that big of an advantage since playing South Dakota State in 2010. Somehow, they lost that game. And while every 6-0 team should be upset-leery, 1-5 Rutgers probably isn’t the underdog to surpass expectations. Prediction: Gophers 45, Rutgers 0
THREE BIG STORY LINES
Rutgers fired both its coach and offensive coordinator, leaving former tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile in charge the past two games. Plus, the team is on its third-string quarterback and without its best running back, who is also the leading receiver.
Avoid a hiccup
Not to say the Gophers underestimate any opponent, but this game is not one to bungle. Weather the travel and come out 7-0.
Tight end rotation
Jake Paulson and Ko Kieft earned much praise for their blocking the past two games, which has really spurred the Gophers run game. But both left last week’s game early, and Kieft didn’t practice as of Tuesday. That could mean more reps for Brevyn Spann-Ford, though he is known more for touchdown catches than physical blocks.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
The Gophers offense vs. the scoreboard
The Gophers average 35.5 points per game and 415.8 yards per game. Rutgers gives up an average of 36 points and 450.2 yards. If ever there was a time for the Gophers to fully sync up their run — which has amassed more than 650 yards the past two games — and the pass — which dominated the early season — it’s now.
The Gophers defense vs. a shutout
The Gophers haven’t managed to shut out an opponent since 2006 — not since 2004 against Illinois in the Big Ten Conference. The defense was close last week vs. Nebraska, giving up a fourth-quarter touchdown. The week before, it gave up a field goal. Rutgers averages only 11.8 points per game and fewer than 300 total yards.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
7 The number of victories with no losses the Gophers are trying to achieve this week. Starting a season 7-0 hasn’t happened since 1960 in a national championship year for the Gophers. Being 4-0 in the Big Ten would also be a first since 1967, the Gophers’ most recent conference title.
THE Gophers WILL WIN IF …
they don’t utterly implode. The Gophers have improved seemingly every game this season, and it would be a totally unexpected regression if they lost. They should stay undefeated, barring injury disaster.
Rutgers WILL WIN IF …
they stay disciplined. The Scarlet Knights would need to force the Gophers into penalties and make the most of every opportunity. They can’t let this tough season frustrate them, even on a five-game losing skid.