Gophers look to clip wings of Georgia Southern Eagles

Minnesota hopes to head into Big Ten play on a high note.

by John Miller

Gophers football (2-0) hosts Georgia Southern (1-1) Saturday afternoon as the Gophers go for their 18th straight win against nonconference opponents, the longest nonconference win streak in Division I. 

The only loss for Georgia Southern came at the hands of fourth-ranked LSU to open the year. Minnesota has never played Georgia Southern before. The Gophers are coming off two straight season-opening wins against South Dakota State and Fresno State. They look to go undefeated and stay healthy heading into their bye week as they prepare for Big Ten play.

When Minnesota runs the ball

Although Minnesota has players with over 6,000 combined career rushing yards returning to the backfield, the Gophers have not run the ball particularly well to start the year. Minnesota ran the ball 52 times in the double overtime thriller against Fresno State. They only accrued 146 yards on those attempts, which is good for 2.8 yards per carry. That was worse than when the Gophers played SDSU and averaged 3.1 yards per carry on 42 rushing attempts for 132 yards.

After two games, Georgia Southern’s rushing defense ranks 27th in the country. They are only giving up 3.22 yards per carry and 87 yards rushing per game. Last week against Maine, the Eagles held their opponents to 52 yards rushing on 21 rushes.

Advantage: Georgia Southern

Matchup to watch: Running back Rodney Smith vs. linebacker Rashad Byrd

When Georgia Southern runs the ball

Georgia Southern has had no problem running the ball to start this season. They are a team that primarily focuses on running the ball while attempting just a few passes per game. Heading into Minnesota, they have the 29th ranked rushing offense. The Eagles have run the ball 91 times this season for 469 yards, good enough for an impressive 5.15 yards per carry. Those stats were boosted by the game against Maine, where the Eagles rushed for 395 yards. When they played the much better LSU program, Georgia Southern only averaged 1.9 yards per carry. 

Minnesota’s run defense has, at times, been suspect. Currently, they have the 48th ranked rushing defense in the NCAA. The Gophers give up an average of 115.5 yards per game, but opponents average only 3.79 yards per carry. Last week against Fresno State, Ronnie Rivers averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 15 attempts, which netted him 76 yards. In the first game of the season, the Gophers allowed SDSU to run for 174 yards on 34 attempts, good enough for 5.1 yards per carry.

Advantage: Georgia Southern

Matchup to watch: Running back Logan Wright vs. linebacker Kamal Martin

When Minnesota passes the ball

Minnesota arguably has the best passing attack it has had for quite some time. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is providing the consistency the offense has needed. Morgan is coming off one of the best games in his career against Fresno State, when he went 16-23 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and finished with a 69.6% completion percentage. On the year, Morgan is completing 70% of his passes with 3 touchdowns and only one interception. 

Contrarily, Georgia Southern’s defense is struggling defending through the air. Its pass defense currently ranks 120th in the country, giving up on 328.5 yards passing per game. Despite being good against the run in their win over Maine, they still allowed them to throw for over 300 yards. Morgan and Minnesota should have no problem passing the ball.

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: Wide receiver Tyler Johnson vs. cornerback Monquavion Brinson

When Georgia Southern passes the ball

As mentioned above, the Eagles are a run-heavy offense that sprinkles in a few passes here and there. Through two games, Georgia Southern has only attempted 20 passes and accrued 87 yards. Even when they are losing, Georgia Southern focuses on running the ball.

Despite having the 89th ranked pass defense in the country, the Gophers will rank a lot higher after this game due to the lack of a passing game by Georgia Southern.

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: Wide receiver Malik Murray vs. cornerback Coney Durr

Prediction: Minnesota 42, Georgia Southern 20

Everything else you need to know

Starting time: 2:30 p.m. CST, Saturday Sept. 14
TV Network: BTN
Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM
Line: Gophers by 15.5