When the Gophers take on Penn State on Saturday, it will be the toughest team they've faced this season.
But that's also true in opposite, at least when it comes to Penn State's defensive backs against the Gophers' receivers.
With how good the Nittany Lions are at stopping the run, second in the FBS in fact, the wideouts might have to pick up the slack. And stars like Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, plus a bevy of talented receivers under those NFL prospects, could help the 8-0 Gophers overcome similarly 8-0 Penn State at TCF Bank Stadium.
"Those 50/50 balls against those big, strong wide receivers, it's going to be more important they are more 60/40 balls our way, whether we come down with it or make sure that they don't," Penn State coach James Franklin told reporters this week. " But part of it is getting them off balance. They haven't really been off balance very much. They are in manageable third-down situations. They are usually playing with a lead. So they are doing very little drop-back passes.
"... Because if they are running the ball effectively, and staying on schedule, and able to mix in an RPO throw or a max protect shot down the field where the quarterback isn't under pressure, he's comfortable in the pocket, and now they are able to create conflict with a play-action or RPO that eliminates maybe the underneath coverage or your safeties from being able to help over the top. And now your receivers are truly one-on-one. That's hard to stop. That's hard to stop."
I'll update this blog later with observations from warm-ups, including if linebacker Kamal Martin will return from injury for the game. Otherwise, enjoy this balmy 30-degree weather and a No. 4 vs. No. 17 matchup!
UPDATE: Martin was dressed and warming up. But he didn't take first-team reps, with Mariano Sori-Marin still in his place. The other players not participating: quarterback Zack Annexstad (foot), running back Jason Williamson (knee), punter Tom Foley (lower leg), linebacker Josh Aune, defensive back Caden Fey, offensive lineman Kyle Sassack and walk-on Peter Bercich.