Gophers vs. Louisiana
- Kickoff: 11 a.m. Saturday
- Where: Huntington Bank Stadium
- TV/Radio: BTN, 100.3-FM
- Line: Gophers by 11
For three quarters last week, the Gophers were beating Northwestern, twice building 21-point leads before the offense, defense and special teams all contributed to an embarrassing collapse in a 37-34 overtime loss. The Gophers (2-2) will try to rebound against the Ragin' Cajuns (3-1), who are averaging 38.8 points per game.
Three big story lines
Where is the Gophers' psyche entering this game? The stunning finish at Northwestern was a devastating blow for the Gophers, who must not only avoid any lingering effects from the loss but also use the lessons learned going forward. Coach P.J. Fleck and his players said all the right things about recovering. Saturday will show if deeds match words.
Will the Gophers defense stop big plays? The Gophers have allowed opponents to gain 10 yards or more 55 times this year, and 41 came in the losses to North Carolina and Northwestern. Included in those are touchdown plays of 80, 46 and 25 yards, plus other gains of 55, 39 and 38 yards. That needs to stop.
Will Darius Taylor play? Gophers true freshman running back Darius Taylor rushed 31 times for 198 yards and two TDs against Northwestern but missed overtime because of a leg injury suffered late in the fourth quarter. His 133 rushing yards per game rank second nationally. His status won't be known until two hours before kickoff.
Two key matchups
Gophers LBs vs. Louisiana QB Zeon Chriss
Chriss, who took over for the injured Ben Wooldridge two weeks ago, has rushed for 173 yards and four TDs in two games. Minnesota's best linebacker, Cody Lindenberg, has yet to play, so Maverick Baranowski, Devon Williams and Ryan Selig become more important in keeping Chriss' running in check.
Gophers OTs vs. Louisiana pass rush
The Ragin' Cajuns lead the nation with 18 sacks, led by defensive end Jordan Lawson with four and linebacker Kendre' Gant with three. Gophers left tackle Aireontae Ersery has a solid 82.8 pass block rating from Pro Football Focus, while right tackle Quinn Carroll is at 67.2.
One stat that matters
The Gophers defense has allowed opponents to convert 20 of their 34 third-down situations over the past two weeks. Immediate improvement is needed.
The Gophers will win if … they take the lessons learned from the collapse at Northwestern and make defensive adjustments to limit explosive plays; they extend drives through all four quarters; they become more aggressive in play-calling in key moments, and they get a more well-rounded performance on special teams.
The Ragin' Cajuns will win if … their running game, which ranks fourth nationally at 238 yards per game, works effectively; Chriss proves to be elusive as a runner and does enough as a passer to keep the Gophers off-balance, and their pass rush puts enough heat on Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis to force him into mistakes.
We'll know a lot more about this Gophers team come 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The loss to Northwestern was devastating, but the Gophers can't let the Wildcats beat them twice. Some good things came out of the first three quarters in Evanston, such as an accurate Kaliakmanis and an offensive line paving the way for Taylor. That must continue no matter who's starting in the backfield. Opponents have exploited the inexperience on defense, so veterans like safety Tyler Nubin will need to settle things down.
My expectation: The Gophers should play better throughout, but that doesn't mean this game will be easy. Louisiana can and will score, but Minnesota will have just enough to win. Gophers 24, Louisiana 20