The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are headed to TCF Bank stadium and the Minnesota Golden Gophers have the edge on both sides of the football.
The Gophers now have an established quarterback after naming Conor Rhoda as the lead signal caller. While he has not put up huge numbers, he throws the ball deep and stretches the defense. Rhoda also does a terrific job scaring the defense on the play-action pass and keeps the passing game threatening enough to help his running backs. Another big part of Rhoda’s success is wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who has been the best receiver in the Big Ten through the first two weeks. He ranks seventh in the country with 10 receptions for 268 yards along with two scores and is the one thing keeping the passing attack alive because of his ability to constantly get open.
The running game for the Gophers also found a rhythm against Oregon State, with the running back duo of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks combining for 183 yards. Brooks had a standout performance in which he found the end zone three times. The blocking for the Gophers was far more consistent, supplying holes for the running game to reach the second level time and again.
The defense followed up their impressive showing against the Buffalo Bulls with a stifling game against Oregon State, allowing a mere 14 points against an offense that had averaged 29.5. The linebackers stole the show in the three-sack, three forced fumble game. Senior linebacker Jonathan Celestin recorded 10 tackles and a tackle for loss along with a recovered fumble. Sophomore linebacker Kamal Martin had a sack, tackle for loss and a fumble recovery, while fellow sophomore Carter Coughlin was another linebacker with a big night, recording a sack and a tackle for loss.
In the secondary, Kiondre Thomas recovered a fumble a fumble while Antonio Shenault was second on the team in tackles with eight. Duke McGhee had five tackles and a pass defended and Oregon State did their best to stay away from defensive star Antoine Winfield Jr., who still had four tackles.
The Blue Raiders defense has only let up 197 yards to opposing rushers. But the stats are deceiving, with the first team the Blue Raiders played (Vanderbilt) only averaging 122.5 rushing yards per game and the second team (Syracuse) averaging 140. The defensive front of the Blue Raiders will have real trouble handling the duo of Smith and Brooks. While those two grind out the football, Johnson will churn up yardage deep, as his knack for getting open despite being the only dangerous receiver has yet to slow him down, a trend that will continue into game three.
On defense, the Gophers have proven capable of winning the turnover battle and the linebackers put pressure on the quarterback while the secondary plays sticky defense.
Final Score: Gophers win 31-17