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Know Your Foe, Week 5: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Penn State and Minnesota are going to go for the Governor’s Victory Bell trophy!

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

University of Minnesota

Location: Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota
Enrollment: 48,231
Home Stadium: TCF Bank Stadium
Head Coach: Tracy Claeys (1st year [October 2015]; 5-4, .556)
Conference: Big Ten (West Division)

Series History

First Game: September 4, 1993 (Penn State won, 38-20)
Last Game: November 9, 2013 (Minnesota won, 24-10)
Overall: Penn State leads 8-5
Current Win Streak: 1, Minnesota
Teams are playing for the Governor’s Victory Bell, first presented in 1993.

Last Season (6-7 overall, 2-6 conference)

Minnesota had a bit of a tumultuous 2015. Last year, the Golden Gophers were led by Jerry Kill, who retired in October due to health reasons. Claeys was named head coach, and changed up his coaching staff soon after taking over, firing offensive coordinator coach Matt Limegrover (who’s with us now!). Claeys hired new coaches for the QB and offensive line coaching spots, and moved existing coaches into other slots.

After losing their season opener against #2 ranked TCU 23-17, Minnesota won the next three against Colorado State, Kent State and Ohio University. They lost 27-0 against Northwestern, but bounced back to beat Purdue 41-13. After that, they lost four straight against Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. They closed the season with a win against Illinois and a loss to Wisconsin.

Even with a losing record, they attended the Quick Lane Bowl vs Central Michigan, since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams, and won 21-14.

Offseason

Minnesota graduated several key players in the offseason, including both starting cornerbacks, and wide receiver K.J. Maye, who caught 73 passes for 773 yards and five touchdowns last year.

Minnesota’s 2016 recruiting class was ranked 48th in the nation (8th in the Big Ten), according to 247 Sports (as compared to PSU’s class ranked at 20th in the nation, 4th in the Big10). Their 2017 class has 12 hard commits, all 3 star athletes.

It was recently reported that four Golden Gopher players who were suspended are possibly connected to a criminal sexual misconduct and assault case.

Last Week

Minnesota is starting the season strong at 3-0 with Penn State as their Big Ten opener.

Last week, they defeated Colorado State 31-24 with 417 total yards, averaging 6.4 yards per play. QB Mitch Leidner rushed 10 times for 50 yards, rushed for a touchdown, and completed 16-20 passes for 174 yards.

Senior Drew Wolitarsky had 5 receptions for 74 yards. Running back Shannon Brooks finished with 13 carries for 85 yards and a TD, and RB Rodney Smith rushed for two TDs, finishing with 17 attempts for 99 yards, and one catch for 15 yards.

The Golden Gophers landed an interception, 3 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Antiono Shenault had a stellar game, racking up 10 of those tackles for the Golden Gophers.

Offense

Penn State’s defense may have a tougher time than they think with the Golden Gophers’s offense. Minnesota returns 84% of their offense with the o line all returning from 2015.

QB Leidner, back from a 2015 injury, has been steady in 2016 with 3 touchdowns, 599 total yards and a 64.5% completion percentage this year.

Through 3 games, Minnesota is 14-14 in the red zone, and all but one possession has resulted in a touchdown, putting them at #1 in the Big Ten (and 2nd in the nation) in offensive red zone efficiency. Minnesota is tied for 1st in the Big Ten (with Purdue) in third down conversions at 55.8% and 5th in FBS.

They’re averaging 39.7 points per game. A big reason for that is running back Rodney Smith, who is second only to Saquon Barkley in the Big Ten with five rushing touchdowns for the year.

Senior Drew Wolitarsky, their leading receiver through three games in 2016 has 17 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns.

Defense

The Gophers returned only 48% of the defense this year, but are averaging 9.7 TFL per game, ranking 3rd in the Big Ten and 7th in FBS. They also have some key leaders returning.

Minnesota has one of the best defensive backs in the Big 10 with safety Damarius Travis, who’s already racked up 16 tackles on the season and one interception. Defensive back Antonio Shenault has also been strong with 13 tackles for 2016.

Minnesota has depth at the linebacker position, and a strong leader in junior Jonathan Celestin who has 13 tackles for 2016.

The defensive line is the weakest but they have defensive lineman Stephen Richardson, who already has 2 sacks and 8 tackles on the year and is averaging 1.7 TFL per game to rank third in the Big Ten and 15th in FBS. Defensive lineman Tai'Yon Devers is averaging a sack per game, with 3 so far this year to rank third in the Big Ten and 16th in FBS.

Special Teams

Sophomore kicker Emmit Carpenter is solid at 5 for 5 on field goals this season. Ryan Santoso moved to punter this year, and was a bright spot in the Minnesota opener against Oregon State, placing four of six punts inside the 20-yard line. Keep an eye on punt retuner / cornerback Jaylen Myrick, too, who has 7 returns for 164 yards this year.

Blog

Check out more on the Golden Gophers at The Daily Gopher, the SB Nation blog for Minnesota.