Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports
The Minnesota Golden Gophers will wrap up their non-conference schedule with two home games against teams from the Mid-American Conference, with the first coming on Saturday against Kent State.
Both teams are coming off a win last Saturday, with Minnesota beating Colorado State in overtime and Kent State dominating Delaware State.
The Gophers are dealing with a lot of injuries, with guard Jon Christenson (right knee) and safety Damarius Travis (hamstring) among those that will miss Saturday’s game. Wide receiver KJ Maye suffered a bruised lung late in last week’s win over Colorado State, but the Gophers’ second-leading receiver (10 receptions for 161 yards, with two touchdowns) is expected to play against Kent State.
After topping 100 rushing yards last week, in his second career game, redshirt freshman Rodney Smith is by himself as Minnesota’s No. 1 tailback heading into this week’s game. He should top 20 carries again against Kent State, regardless of how one-sided the game might become.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner led a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter last Saturday, culminating in a touchdown pass to Maye, which helped obscure another inconsistent, often erratic performance. The Gophers don’t have a clear replacement for him, but Leidner needs to play better against an inferior opponent this week. Otherwise, concerns he will hold back the rest of the team when the schedule gets tougher will get louder.
The Kent State View
If not for two fumble returns for touchdowns, Delaware State would not have scored against Kent State last Saturday. It’s worth noting that sack yardage counts against rushing yardage in college football, but it’s still rare to see a team post -38 yards on the ground and -33 total offensive yards in a game as Delaware State did last week.
The Golden Flashes piled up 493 yards off offense in last week’s win, including 279 rushing yards and 145 combined rushing yards from running backs Trayion Durham (15 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown) and Nick Holley (nine carries for 68 yards).
Against a tough Gophers’ defense, a productive running game will be essential for Kent State on Saturday. Quarterback Colin Reardon also needs to be as efficient as he was against Delaware State (11-for-16 for 142 yards and three touchdowns), and that will be a huge challenge against a better opponent.
All signs point to a one-sided outcome in favor of the Gophers on Saturday, and any other result will be a big disappointment.
Score Prediction: Minnesota 31, Kent State 13
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