The Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1) are limping into a Homecoming matchup with the Ohio Bobcats (3-0) after a deflating 10-7
loss win against the Golden Flashes of Kent State last Saturday. The Gophers' offensive woes have been well documented all week long, and the hashtag #RUTM should send a shudder down the spine of anyone who witnessed the horrific second half of last week's game. Injuries at the tight end position and across the offensive line have left the offense battered and bruised, to the point where Jerry Kill has talked about burning redshirts to help fill the gaps and, hopefully, improve the patchwork product we've seen on the field thus far.
The Bobcats of Ohio have had a much less tumultuous start to their season. Sitting at 3-0, the Bobcats have collected wins against the Idaho Vandals (a Sun Belt team that was 1-10 last year), the Marshall Thundering Herd (a team that was 13-1 a season ago and also recorded a win at home over the Purdue Boilermakers earlier this season), and the Southeastern Louisiana Lions (an FCS program riding a streak of 20 straight losses to FBS teams). Kind of a mixed bag. Marshall is by far their most impressive win, even with the Thundering Herd's star quarterback Rakeem Cato gone after a sensational senior season a year ago. As far as intrigue goes, Ohio had been alternating quarterbacks up until Week 3, splitting snaps between senior Darrius Vick and junior J.D. Sprague, with Vick being the lone quarterback to see action last week.
So what are the matchups that could make or break this game for the Gophers?
Gophers' linebackers vs Bobcats' running backs. We all know what the Gophers' secondary is capable of at this point. Until Eric Murray, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, and crew prove otherwise, I'm going to assume that the defensive backs will take care of business on Saturday and clamp down on Ohio's passing game. That leaves the front seven responsible for shutting down the running game.
The Bobcats have been effective at running the ball so far this season, exceeding 200 rushing yards in 2 of their first 3 games. Senior Daz'mond Patterson and sophomore A.J. Ouellette will split carries at running back, providing Ohio with a thunder-and-lightning combo at the tailback position. Neither one has rushed for more than 84 yards in a game this season, with the Bobcats favoring more of a committee approach when running the ball. Ouellette leads the two of them with 39 carries to Patterson's 27, but Patterson has the edge at YPC with 6.4 to Ouellette's less impressive 3.8.
Cody Poock has been a standout at the linebacker position for the Gophers' defense to start the season, totaling a career-high 10 tackles against Kent State after recording 7 tackles against both TCU and Colorado State. I expect him to be all over the field again this Saturday against the Bobcats, shedding blocks with relative ease and running down Patterson and Ouellette.
Gophers' offensive line vs Bobcats' front seven. This one is a no-brainer, and will continue to be a matchup to watch regardless of the opponent until the offensive line can stabilize and put together a solid performance. Jerry Kill emphasized earlier this week that the Gophers need to be better at running the ball, and the Bobcats' defense boasts a solid group up front, ranking 44th in the nation in rushing defense. As we learned a week ago against Kent State, the quality of opponents is irrelevant here. The Bobcats appear at least competent in stopping the run, so the Gophers will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. There are no guarantees with this offense.
Ohio's linebackers, in particular, will be active on the defensive side of the ball. Redshirt sophomore linebackers Quentin Poling and Chad Moore are their leading tacklers at this point in the season, so expect them to have a key role in stopping the run against the Gophers, especially if the Bobcats match the defensive looks Kent State used to stack the box. The Bobcats also rank 25th in the nation in sacks, totaling 8 in their first 3 games of the season. Protecting Mitch Leidner will be of paramount importance when the Gophers attempt to pass the ball against this Ohio defense.
It is simple: If Minnesota can't establish the run against Ohio, the Gophers are in trouble.
Are there any other matchups that you think could be the difference in this game?