Daily Breakdown: P.J. Fleck era begins with easy matchup against Buffalo

Buffalo went 2-10 overall last year, finishing last in the MAC East.

Minnesota wide receiver Eric Carter runs the ball against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, Nov. 26.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota wide receiver Eric Carter runs the ball against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, Nov. 26.

Jack Warrick

Minnesota takes on non-conference opponent Buffalo Thursday evening in the 2017 season opener. New head coach P.J. Fleck routed the Buffalo Bulls 38-0 with his Western Michigan team last year, and will try to do the same with his new team. 

The Gophers have two starting quarterbacks with little experience between the two of them. Buffalo’s quarterback situation is more solidified with the 6 foot, 7 inch, 245-pound Tyree Jackson running the offense for his second year with the Bulls.

When Minnesota runs the ball:

Minnesota will rely heavily on its running backs as Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks accounted for 1,808 yards of 4,644 yards of total offense last year. 

The one thing the Gophers’ offense has from last year is their running backs with Smith and Brooks. Also, Kobe McCrary had three rushing touchdowns and 246 yards last year as the third-string back.

Buffalo’s defense was less than stellar last year as they allowed an average of 32.3 points per game and a run defense ranked 124th out of 128 teams in the NCAA. 

Matchup to watch: RB Rodney Smith vs. LB Khalil Hodge

Advantage: Minnesota

When Buffalo runs the ball:

Last year, the rushing offense was led by Buffalo’s senior running back Jordan Johnson who rushed for 1,040 yards. Quarterback Tyree Jackson had the second most rushing yards with 399 and sophomore Johnathan Hawkins was right behind with 338. 

Johnson has since graduated and it is unknown who will make up those yards for Buffalo. 

Minnesota’s defense allowed 22.1 points per game last year with a rush defense ranked 19th in the nation. The team graduated a couple of its top tacklers in Damarius Travis and Jack Lynn, but the team has top tackler linebacker Jonathan Celestin and defensive lineman Steven Richardson coming back.

Matchup to watch: LB Jonathan Celestin vs. QB Tyree Jackson

Advantage: Minnesota

When Minnesota throws the ball:

With the two new quarterbacks coming in with a total of 122 passing yards, just 88 for Conor Rhoda and 34 for Demry Croft, the passing situation is a mystery. 

The running game will probably be highlighted in this game. Battle-tested running backs and a young, inexperienced, wide receiver group will lead the offense.

The Bulls’ pass defense allowed 2178 passing yards last year and 15 touchdowns. The Bulls were ranked 15th last year in passing yards allowed per game with 189.5.

Safety Ryan Williamson is back deep for Buffalo. He has started 24 games and played in 35 games in his career with the Bulls.

Matchup to watch: WR Rashad Still vs. S Ryan Williamson

Advantage: Buffalo

When Buffalo throws the ball:

Buffalo’s three leading receivers graduated last year. They accounted for a combined 1,501 receiving yards a season ago. Wide receiver Anthony Johnson is the guy to watch this year. He runs a 4.44 second 40-yard dash and he’s 6 feet, 2 inches and 207 pounds.

The Gophers pass defense was ranked 63rd last year with 229.6 yards allowed per game.

Gophers cornerback Jalen Myrick graduated last year. He was a big part of the pass defense with 11 breakups and 12 pass deflections. With him gone, the backfield guy to watch for the Gophers is Antoine Winfield Jr., a Sophomore safety and son of the former Vikings cornerback with the same name.

Matchup to watch: WR Anthony Johnson and DB Antoine Winfield Jr.

Advantage: Minnesota

Prediction:

Minnesota 31, Buffalo 14

The Gophers rushing offense and superior rushing defense will power them through the game. There will be a lack of passing offense for both teams with the graduated key seniors involved in the passing game for both teams last year. 

Everything else you need to know:

Start time: 6 p.m. CST, Thursday, Aug. 31

Network: Big Ten Network

Radio: 107.9 KOOL 108

Line: Minnesota by 24.5

Minnesota Depth Chart

Buffalo Roster