The Mountain West is rolling. Four teams from the Group of Five conference upset Power Five schools in Week 1. Fresno State almost added to it but an interception in the end zone at the end of the game at USC foiled that. Meanwhile, the Gophers nearly fell to an FCS team at home. Prediction: Fresno State 30, Gophers 24
THREE BIG STORY LINES
Much like the USC game, Fresno State also missed a chance to beat the Gophers last season, thanks to a game-saving end zone interception from safety Antoine Winfield Jr. But the Bulldogs beat a different Power Five team the next game in UCLA.
Senior running back Rodney Smith had what would have been his senior year cut short against Fresno State last year, tearing his left ACL early in the game. Back for his sixth year, Smith led the Gophers with 92 yards rushing in the season opener.
The Gophers again face a new quarterback and offensive coordinator. Jorge Reyna threw for 256 yards and ran for 88 at USC. O-line coach Ryan Grubb is now offensive coordinator after Kalen DeBoer went to Indiana.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Bulldogs tight end vs. Gophers defense
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said he thinks Bulldogs senior Jared Rice is an NFL-caliber tight end. Rice has 1,069 career receiving yards and seven touchdowns. The Gophers linebackers and secondary will look to stop the 6-5, 243-pound California native, who brings a dangerous dynamic to the Bulldogs’ offense.
Bulldogs O-line vs. Gophers D-line
In 2018, the Bulldogs line allowed just 12 sacks, good for sixth best in the FBS. With just one returning starter, the line allowed three sacks in the season opener at USC. The Gophers had one sack in their opener, shared by defensive ends Esezi Otomewo and Tai’yon Devers. But starting rush end Carter Coughlin is questionable because of an injury.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
8 The winning streak Fresno State has going when playing at Bulldog Stadium, tied for 12th best in the FBS. Part of that home-field advantage is the late-night (at least for the Gophers) kickoff and steamy temperatures.
THE Gophers WILL WIN IF …
they play better than they did against South Dakota State in their first game. They’ll need to find a way to establish the run and involve receiver Tyler Johnson. Having senior linebacker Kamal Martin back from suspension should stabilize the defense.
The Bulldogs WILL WIN IF …
their offense gains momentum. Reyna had a solid debut despite his interception. Running back Ronnie Rivers has 1,276 career rushing yards. Some fast receivers plus Rivers make for a threatening passing game. If the O-line blocks, the Bulldogs can win it.