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2019 Opponent Snapshot: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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The last time Penn State played Minnesota an overtime victory acted as a springboard for a historic Big Ten title run.

Quick Lane Bowl - Minnesota v Georgia Tech Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Quick 2018 Recap: PJ Fleck’s second season of boat rowing in Minneapolis-St. Paul had some rough seas, but it wasn’t all bad. The Golden Gophers went 7-6 on the year with an ugly losses to lowly Illinois and Maryland, but big wins over Purdue and rival Wisconsin. They capped the season with a dominant 34-10 win over Georgia Tech in the Little Caesars Quick Lane Bowl. You also start to see Fleck’s vision for his program starting to take shape as the run game really got going late in the year.

Offensive Player to Watch: RB Mohamed Ibrahim - Speaking of that impressive run game, it was led by breakout redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim. Ibrahim, a Maryland native, was a 3-star product out of high school who chose the Gophers over Iowa and Kentucky among others,

After redshirting as a true freshman, he earned the starting job in 2018 and carried the ball 202 times for 1,160 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. That’s an average of 5.7 yards per carry.

Ibrahim’s consistency and patience between the tackles is his most impressive trait. But don’t be fooled, he has some breakaway speed as well with a career-long 74-yard touchdown run last year. Ibrahim is back for at least one more season with the Gophers and should be Fleck’s work horse.

Defensive Player to Watch: LB Carter Coughlin - The Minnesota defense was a bit hit and miss last year. The Golden Gophers defended the run pretty well but were less than stellar against the pass. They were often gashed for big plays and struggled to get off the field.

The one constant, however, was then Junior Carter Coughlin. Coughlin is a Minnesota native who was a four-star, top 100 recruit with offers from Ohio State, Oregon and Michigan State.

Last season he started all 13 games, racked up 45 tackles and led the team with 9.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Coughlin is a disrupter and the Nittany Lions will have to be sure to get him blocked.

Penn State Wins If: The Nittany Lions can stop the run.

Presumed Minnesota starting quarterback Tanner Morgan went 4-2 in six starts after taking over in October, but Penn State will feel comfortable if Morgan has to go out and win a game with him arm.

The Golden Gophers was to control the clock and wear down defenses with their run game. If Penn State keeps Ibrahim from getting going, it’ll be an uphill battle for Minnesota.

Minnesota Wins If: The Golden Gophers average more than six yards per carry.

Penn State will live with Ibrahim getting something along the lines of 100 yards on 20 carries. What the Nittany Lions can’t afford is Minnesota getting into second and third and short because it’s ripping off six and seven-yard carries on first down.

If the Golden Gophers can win at the line of scrimmage on offense, it could be a long day for Penn State.

Major Changes for 2019: Remember what we said about the Minnesota defense and big plays?

Apparently Fleck noticed that because he brought in a new cornerbacks coach in Rod Chance. Chance comes over from Oregon where he spent a year as defensive analyst for the Ducks.

Previously, he had been the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Southern Utah, helping the Thunderbirds (!) win the Big Sky in 2017.