Quick 2021 Recap
The schedule makers did the Gophers no favors by having them start the season against Ohio State. The Gophers put together a respectable performance though, trading punches with the Buckeyes before ultimately falling 45-31. The Gophers bounced back with non-conference wins against Miami (OH) and Colorado, but a poor offensive performance and untimely turnovers resulted in a massive 14-10 upset by Bowling Green - the team that were often ranked 130 out of 130 heading into the season.
Minnesota learned from its mistakes, reeling off four consecutive victories against Purdue, Nebraska, Maryland and Northwestern. Disaster struck once again as the Gophers suffered another upset loss, this time at the hands of Illinois. That game was followed by another loss to Iowa, dropping them to 6-4. However, Minnesota ended the season with a three-game win streak, including a victory against Wisconsin, as well as West Virginia in the Guarenteed Rate Bowl.
Offensive Player To Watch:
Tanner Morgan (QB)
Morgan is back for his fifth season, and the offense will only go as far as he can take them. Nittany Lion fans do not have the best memories of Morgan, after he gave a career performance in the Gophers upset of then-#4 Penn State in 2019. Morgan was on fire all afternoon, connecting on 18 of 20 passes for 339 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. However, he has failed to reach those heights during the past two seasons. Morgan did not have an impressive 2021 season despite Minnesota’s 9-4 record, completing just under 60 percent of passes with just one more touchdown (10) than interceptions (9).
Morgan has help returning at receiver and running back, but will also be playing behind an inexperienced line. He will need to take a major step forward and find consistency for the Gophers to reach double-digit wins in 2022.
Defensive Player To Watch:
Mariano Sori-Marin (LB)
The fifth-year senior is ready to take over leadership of the Minnesota defense. Sori-Marin is always around the ball, and has the ability to make momentum-shifting plays. He finished second on the team with 85 tackles that included 5.0 TFLs, two forced fumbles and an interception. He has been a regular presence for the Gophers defense the past three seasons, and was recognized as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for racking up 18 tackles and a forced fumble against Nebraska in 2020.
Minnesota Wins If
The Gophers offensive line comes together for the week eight match-up, giving Tanner Morgan time in the pocket to have a game similar to his 2019 performance. This also gives time for Mohamad Ibrahim, one of the nation’s top running backs, time to heal after missing all but one game in 2021 with a leg injury. That one game? Ibrahim racked up 163 rushing yards and three scores against the Buckeyes before exiting the game in the third quarter. Minnesota also gets Penn State at the perfect time, sandwiched between Michigan and Ohio State on the Nittany Lions schedule.
Penn State Wins If
The Nittany Lions defensive line will need to be hitting on all cylinders by the time the Gophers roll into town. Minnesota will have a challenge to replace four starters on its offensive line, which could allow Penn State to shut down the run and stay in Morgan’s face to prevent a repeat performance from 2019.
Minnesota will also suffer from key losses along the defensive line - but to exploit this, Penn State will also need to make vast improvements in a run game that finished 113th in the nation in 2021.