Notebook: Minnesota vs. Georgia Southern

Wide receiver Rashod Bateman reaches to catch a pass at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 29. Minnesota defeated South Dakota State 28-21.

Image by Kamaan Richards

Wide receiver Rashod Bateman reaches to catch a pass at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 29. Minnesota defeated South Dakota State 28-21.

by John Miller

The Gophers play their second home game of the season against Georgia Southern on Saturday, looking for a win and to enter their bye week on a high note. 

After the bye, the Gophers begin Big Ten conference play and will not have another game against a non-conference opponent. They begin on the road at Purdue on Sept. 28. However, head coach P.J. Fleck is not looking past this week.

“They’re a very good football team. They’re very well-coached,” Fleck said about Georgia Southern. “They’ve got athletes everywhere, and they’ve won the Sun Belt in the last few years, and they’re very good.”

Fleck compared Georgia Southern’s offense to Georgia Tech, who they beat 34-10 last year in the Quick Lane Bowl the day after Christmas. Georgia Southern runs a triple-option offense, but it’s a little different from that of the Yellow Jackets.

“It’s option, but it’s not exactly the same as the veer option of Georgia Tech, but it’s very similar,” said Fleck. “Option football is option football, but there are some things that make it a little bit different. It’s more zone option than veer option.”

The Gophers come into the game struggling against the run. In their first two games of the season, they’ve allowed opposing running backs to average over 5 yards per carry. The Eagles are averaging over 5 yards per carry on this season, but most of those yards came against Maine. They had a very tough time running the ball against LSU, where they averaged 1.9 yards per carry. It will be a good test to see where the Gophers and their 48th ranked run defense stands, especially as they head into the Big Ten, a conference that is predicated on the run.

Morgan and Bateman connection heating up, but Gophers look to create for Tyler Johnson

It has been a rough start for star wide receiver, senior Tyler Johnson. Opposing defenses are doing everything they can to force the Gopher offense to look elsewhere in the passing game. 

“If people are going to double cover Tyler, we’ve got to find new ways to get Tyler the ball like we did last week,” said Fleck. 

After struggling in the opener against SDSU with three receptions for 28 yards, Johnson had a little more success in week two against Fresno State. In that game, he had four receptions for 71 yards. He has still yet to find the end zone this season.

Quarterback Tanner Morgan highlighted how if teams are going to focus on Rashod Bateman and Johnson, it will leave more room for other players to make plays, which was how the Gophers converted their fourth-and-13 at the end of the fourth quarter against Fresno State for a touchdown.

“If you isolate two guys, you leave seven one-on-one, [they’re] going to go make a play. That’s where we have elite play makers top to bottom that can go make plays.”

The identity of the offense

Two games into the season, it is clear the Gophers are having more success through the air than on the ground. The offense is only averaging three yards per rush, but is completing 70% of their passes. To Fleck, however, the game plan remains the same. 

“The identity is going to be — it doesn’t matter what it takes to win the football game,” said Fleck. “We feel like if we have to throw the ball 50 times to win the football game, we have confidence in our quarterback and our wide outs that have to do that. And if it’s to run it 50 times and that’s what it takes to win the football game, that’s what we’ll do.”