The Rutgers football team finally ended its three-game losing streak after beating Indiana 24-17. The Scarlet Knights (4-3, 1-3) will be traveling north to face Minnesota this Saturday.
The Golden Gophers (4-3, 1-3) are trying to follow in the footsteps of Rutgers by snapping a three-game losing streak themselves. After winning its first four games of the season, including a beat down of Michigan State, Minnesota has become a shell of its former self.
The Daily Targum sat down with Theo Franz of The Minnesota Daily to talk about the Gophers and how these two 4-3 teams match up heading into Saturday.
When the Knights were on their losing streak, head coach Greg Schiano decided to fire Sean Gleeson as offensive coordinator. The move paid off immediately as Rutgers looked strong on offense against the Hoosiers. So who can Minnesota point to as their own Sean Gleeson?
“Right now, I feel like just based off the tone of voice that all the coaches and coordinators are giving off, it seems that they are uneased,” said Franz. “They weren’t expecting this to come. They have a lot of obstacles — of course, the Tanner Morgan injury that happened against Illinois — and he was unable to play at Penn State.”
Morgan is still dealing with the concussion that kept him out, and it’s unsure whether he will be under center Saturday.
“God and (head coach) P.J. Fleck are the only people that know, I’d say,” said Franz when asked if he knew of any decision made about the quarterback's status this weekend. “He was on a radio show earlier today, and he said he was surprisingly better from the injury, but when they asked if he’ll play Saturday, Fleck gave a maybe.”
If Morgan somehow finds his way to the field, Franz mentioned how his level of play has been spotty this season. The quarterback has 1,164 yards passing with seven touchdowns, five interceptions and a quarterback rating of 62.4.
“Coming into his sixth year, I did not expect to see (Morgan's) worst performance and best performance of his career,” Franz said.
Additionally, Franz said he is unsure if Minnesota is going to get a good Morgan performance or bad Morgan performance on Saturday.
The best solution for a Jekyll and Hyde quarterback is to lean on the running game and talented offensive weapons. Luckily for the Gophers, there are a few names to go along, led by one of the best backs in the nation, Mohamed Ibrahim. He has 796 yards on the season, which is top 15 in the FBS and has 10 touchdowns.
“Ibrahim, he’s got 15 straight 100-yard rushing games, tied with Ezekiel Elliott in Big Ten history for the longest consecutive streak,” said Franz.
“Brevyn Spann-Ford, he’s a (6-foot-7) tight end. They are finally unlocking his receiving ability, and he’s looking phenomenal while doing so. Another player I like a lot that is playing really well is on the offensive line, John Michael Schmitz. He’s opening up a lot of holes in the middle … if you look at some of the films of (Ibrahim), you see that most of his biggest runs actually come off of (Schmitz) up the middle,” said Franz.
Minnesota's defense has struggled during the season. The team is not getting enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks and is allowing high-scoring games. But that does not mean the defense lacks talent, specifically at linebacker.
“Thinking about hard-nosed players, the first one, of course, is Mariano Sori-Marin,” said Franz. “He is leading our team in tackles this season. His ability to clog up holes in the run game is phenomenal. That’s easily his biggest strength … in coverage, he’s not quite the best, but man, he really goes at it full steam ahead, knows where he’s going, smart and he calls the plays on defense.”
Franz also mentioned that the Gophers have a pair of lockdown cornerbacks in Terell Smith and Justin Walley, who could cause issues for senior quarterback Noah Vedral and the Knights receivers on the outside. This game has the makings of being a defensive battle, which could be why Franz thinks Saturday will be close.
“I can’t imagine much passing because I know Rutgers has a quarterback controversy right now … a lot of running. I think it’s going to be a classic Big Ten matchup. Just running the ball, low-scoring and lots of defense," Franz said. "I’m going to say a prediction of 17-7 Minnesota … I think there’s going to be a total of four interceptions thrown in that game.”
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