Well gang, we did it. 4-2 down the stretch, wins against Iowa State and Texas, and bowl eligibility. Our reward? Minnesota, in Phoenix, at 10:15pm on a Tuesday. If that doesn't get your juices flowing I don't know what will.
As for the Gophers, my opening thought when the matchup was announced was that I didn't have much of a feel for whether they're any good or not. I don't watch much Big 10 football and have a pretty significant lack of respect for the B1G West in particular, but on the surface the 8-4 record is solid enough and their defensive numbers especially are pretty impressive. Let's dive in and see if we can get a feel for how this thing's going to shake out.
Date: December 28th, 10:15pm EST
Where: Chase Field - Phoenix, AZ
Tickets: General Public
Online Streaming: ESPN app with a valid cable subscription
Cord Cutters: Mountaineer fans can catch all the action on fuboTV. fuboTV is an over-the-top streaming service that carries all the major networks, including CBS, NBC, FOX, and now....the ESPN Disney networks! It also carries ABC, CBS Sports Network, FS1, SEC Network, and more. fuboTV comes with a cloud DVR feature, so you can record the game and watch it later. Sign up for a free seven day trial of fuboTV, and get 15% off the base family plan, by following THIS LINK.
Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), and Jed Drenning (sideline)
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Spread: WVU +6.5
I assume the over is relatively safe with both teams ranking among the nation's leaders in time of possession and generally looking to take the air out of the ball, but the spread is a weird one. I get that they have to be the favorites due to their record, but when you look at who they've played and lost to it's clear that this is a beatable football team.
High 53/42 low - 45% chance of rain
Weather-wise there's arguably no better time to visit Arizona than December, but Tuesday evening's forecast leaves a bit to be desired.
Where are they from? Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN. The University of Minnesota is a public research institution with its main campus located in the Twin Cities.
All-time series record: This is the first time we've ever played Minnesota.
Last game: See above.
Head coach: PJ Fleck (5th season, 34-23). Fleck set sail for Minneapolis after rowing his boat for 5 years at Western Michigan. The results have been decent, with a handful of pretty average seasons sandwiched around one very impressive 11-2 campaign in 2019.
2021 record: 8-4. Again, solid on the surface. High points were wins against Wisconsin and Maryland and the season-opening loss to Ohio State, low points were losses to Bowling Green and Illinois.
NUMBERS THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
69% - The Gophers have run the ball on 69% of their snaps this year. The only teams in America that are more committed to the run are the service academies.
4.3 - Tackles for loss per game for the Gophers, good for 120th nationally. Also...
5.6% - The Gophers' sack rate, 90th nationally. Minnesota is not a team that goes out of it's way to create backfield havoc.
12.0 - The difference between Minnesota's net field position (+6.3, 5th nationally) and ours (-5.7, 121st) per Football Outsiders. This feels likely to play a huge role in the game considering the relative lack of explosiveness on both sides.
KEYS TO THE GAME
This is a familiar one so let's keep it simple - with both squads looking to control the clock, possessions will be at a premium and we can't afford to waste those opportunities with our usual shenanigans. That means no turnovers, no dropped passes, no big plays negated by penalty, just 60 minutes of good, clean, mistake-free football to take us into the offseason.
STOP THE RUN
"Stop the run" feels like a cliche, but when your opponent runs it on 7 out of 10 plays and uses play action on nearly half of their passing attempts it really simplifies things. You can either strap it up tight, pull on your big boy pants, and stop them, or you can't. The Gophers aren't overly explosive on the ground, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and generating 10+ yards on just 12% of their attempts, but their effectiveness with it has been the single biggest driving factor of their success this year. The numbers tell a pretty clear story there - 207 yards on 4.5 yards per carry in their 8 wins vs 160 yards on 3.7 yards per carry in their 4 losses. We're in the top third of the country in yards allowed, TFL, and stuff rate and have played some pretty good rushing attacks, so if we can match that standard tonight I'll feel really good about our chances.
GENERATE EXPLOSIVE PLAYS
Jake Lantz hit the nail on the head yesterday - we have to hit big plays in the passing game to move the ball and put up points against these guys. Minnesota has simply been too good against the run to expect much there. Beyond that though is the fact that we're clearly at our best when we've been able to attack down the field while they've lost all three of the games where their opponents averaged over 8 yards per pass attempt.
There are a couple of reasons for optimism here. First and most importantly, as good as the Gophers have been defensively they're much more Iowa State than Oklahoma State. They don't create many negative plays and they don't generate a ton of pressure on the quarterback, both of which bode well for us offensively. They also haven't faced a passing attack that even sniffs ours since mid-October, with all five of their opponents since then ranking worse than 110th nationally in yards per game. I'm not saying we're going to catch them off-guard after four weeks of preparation, but we play offense differently than the teams they're used to playing and they play defense differently than the teams that have given us trouble.
HOW AFRAID SHOULD WE BE?
5/10. This is not a team that's going to run away from us, and I'd be very surprised and more than a bit disappointed if we're not at least in with a shout in the 4th quarter.
Anti-B1G West bias aside, the Gophers don't match the profile of the teams that have given us the most trouble this year. There's just not a ton of explosiveness offensively or havoc defensively, and as long as we're able to stay out of our own way (much easier said than done) I think we'll be just fine. LFG.
West Virginia 24-20 Minnesota