The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers face their toughest non-conference opponent to date in the San Jose State Spartans and their talented quarterback David Fales. Minnesota comes off a win against Western Illinois in a game with many story lines, including another seizure from head coach Jerry Kill at halftime.
With slow starts in two of their first three games, the Maroon and Gold cannot let that happen against the Spartans. SJSU has the personnel to put the Minnesota away — their first three opponents did not.
It should be a beautiful day at TCF Bank Stadium with a high of 65 degrees expected along with bright sunshine. A perfect Saturday for the Gophers to go 4-0, but let’s break down the intangibles first…
- Minnesota Offense:
Sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson went down with a hamstring injury in the first half last week against the Leathernecks. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner who went seven of eight passing for 105 yards and added 64 yards rushing on 17 carries. The offense looked more efficient with Leidner under center. It wasn’t more explosive, it just seemed to have more rhythm. Nelson was reportedly only at about 75 percent health as recently as Wednesday, so I would be surprised if he plays against the Spartans. Expect Leidner to be under center and if something happens to him, true freshman Chris Streveler may enter the game.
- San Jose State Offense:
Fales is a taller, leaner version of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson according to Kill. He is a legitimate first round NFL prospect. Last year he completed 327 of 451 passes for 4193 yards, 33 touchdowns, and only nine interceptions. The Spartans offense has not been as explosive this year in comparison. Through two games, SJSU is No. 73 in passing yards and No. 113 in rushing yards in the nation. They only rank No. 106 in points scored at 18.5 per game.
Offensive Edge: San Jose State
- Minnesota Defense:
To date, the Gophers defense has not disappointed me. Ra’Shede Hageman and Theiren Cockran are an explosive duo along the Gophers defensive line and will be wreaking havoc all year. The linebacker corps is markedly better than last season and are probably the best unit since 2009. The secondary is deep and can afford the injury it sustained to cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun. However, they haven’t played to their potential thus far in my opinion. There is room for improvement in the secondary no doubt.
- San Jose State:
Senior linebacker Keith Smith leads the Spartans with 30 tackles though just two games! Meanwhile, the Spartans defense has given up just 13 points in that same span. With such a sturdy defense coming to Minneapolis, I really worry about the Gophers getting off to a slow start and not being able to recover. The Minnesota offense stalled in the first half of both the UNLV and Western Illinois games, only to figure things out against those bad defenses in the second half. If the Gophers get off to a slow start against this Spartans defense, I don’t see them recovering late.
Defensive Edge: Minnesota
- Minnesota Special Teams:
Kicker Chris Hawthorne has connected on four of five field goals and 14 of 15 extra point attempts. Peter Mortell has been solid punting, averaging 42.7 yards per kick. That has provided the Gophers with consistency from the kicking game for the first time in years. Maybe since 2004 when Rhys Lloyd handled both the kicking and punting duties. Marcus Jones has been spectacular in the return game, returning both a kick and a punt for a touchdown this season.
- San Jose State Special Teams:
Kicker Austin Lopez has hit all three of his field goal attempts. Harrison Waid is averaging a modest 39.1 yards on his punts. Nothing special thus far from the Spartans return game, where Damon Ogburn Jr. is averaging 19 yards per kick return with a long of 24.
Special Teams Edge: Minnesota
First off, I would like to give defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys credit for keeping the team together after Kill suffered his seizure just moments before halftime. Claeys was the acting head coach and the Gophers played extremely well in the second half under his watch. Hat-tip to offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover as well. Claeys and Limegrover have worked with Kill for 19 and 15 years respectively. Expect Kill to be on the sideline on Sat. as feisty as ever.
– San Jose State:
Ron Caragher took over the job at San Jose State in December of 2012 after Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado. Caragher last coached at the University of San Diego where he lead the Toreros to a 44-22 record and three Pioneer League championships.
Coaching Edge: Minnesota
Prediction: San Jose State 20, Minnesota 13
I think the Gophers offense is a major issue right now. They simply cannot throw the football. I can see the offensive game plan right now, run a quarterback draw with Leidner, followed by two runs up the middle with David Cobb and Rodrick Williams Jr. That may have worked eventually against teams like New Mexico State, UNLV, and Western Illinois, but it will not work against the Spartans who are stronger defensively. Leidner will have to start hitting receivers in stride on third and long and I get the feeling he is going to see a lot of those situations.
Simply put, if the Gophers play as poorly offensively as they have in the first three games, they will lose. If they play their best offensive game of the year, then they have a shot.
I think the Gophers match up favorably everywhere else as you can probably see above. Will Limegrover will open up the offensive playbook a little bit this week? I sure hope so.