Week 1 is in the books and the Minnesota Golden Gophers will have a chance to notch their first win of the season against another opponent from the state of Ohio. Fortunately for the Gophers, their Week 2 opponent is far less formidable than the No. 4-ranked team in the country.
Can Miami (Ohio) score on offense?
The status of RedHawks starting quarterback Brett Gabbert is in question. Gabbert would have opened the season in his third year as the starting signal caller if not for getting banged up in preseason camp. After leading Miami (Ohio) to a MAC Championship as a true freshman, Gabbert was limited by injury and the RedHawks’ three-game schedule last season. He has not practiced much this fall after suffering a knee injury and then a thumb injury in preseason camp, though he did dress for the season opener against Cincinnati and was “available.”
Starting in place of Gabbert, back-up quarterback A.J. Mayer did not fare well against the Bearcats’ suffocating defense. He was 9-of-28 for 109 passing yards and only connected twice with wide receiver Jack Sorenson, a Second-Team All-MAC selection last season. Sorenson has been Gabbert’s go-to target in the passing game, leading the RedHawks in receiving yards each of the last three seasons. The Gophers’ secondary will have their eyes on Sorenson, but the RedHawks also bolstered their wide receiver corps with Penn State transfer Mac Hippenhammer last season. He hauled in three receptions for 64 receiving yards in the opener.
On the ground, Miami (Ohio) struggled last season, finishing 99th nationally in rushing offense (127 rushing yards per game). But they were without Jaylon Bester and Tyre Shelton, their leading rushers from 2019, after both opted out of the 2020 season. But neither of them played in the season opener against Cincinnati, either. So the RedHawks turned to Kansas State transfer Keyon Mozee, who acquitted himself well with 15 carries for 80 rushing yards. He was operating behind an offensive line that returned only two starters from a season ago.
Miami (Ohio) does not have anywhere near the firepower of Ohio State at the skill positions, so this matchup should give fans a better idea of how much the Minnesota defense has improved from last season. Their biggest hurdle will be eliminating the mental mistakes from Week 1, which proved fatal in the second half against the Buckeyes.
Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score
Gopher fans may be anxious to see Minnesota get the ground game going against the RedHawks with Mohamed Ibrahim lost for the season, but the Miami (Ohio) defense’s struggles against the pass might as well be an open invitation to Tanner Morgan. The RedHawks ranked 110th nationally in pass defense last season, allowing an average of 267.7 passing yards per game. With four upperclassmen starting in the secondary, Miami (Ohio) may have been hoping for improvement this year. But Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder quickly dispelled them of that notion, launching an 81-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage.
The RedHawks lack elite size and speed in the secondary, so they spend a lot of time in zone coverage to avoid getting caught in mismatches in man coverage. Well, the Bearcats carved up that zone coverage to the tune of 295 passing yards and four touchdowns. If Chris Autman-Bell is cleared to play for the Gophers on Saturday, then he, Dylan Wright, and Daniel Jackson should be champing at the bit to exploit the gaps in their pass coverage.
Up front, Miami (Ohio) was tough against the run last season, ranking 22nd nationally (126 rushing yards allowed per game). Operating out of a 4-2-5, they return all six starters from their defensive front, including lead tackler Ryan McWood at linebacker and sack leader Kameron Butler at defensive end. But that defensive front did not hold up well against Cincinnati’s rushing attack, surrendering 247 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns, and an average of 8 yards per carry.
Even without Ibrahim, Minnesota should be able to put up points against the defense. It’ll be interesting to see if P.J. Fleck and offensive co-coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. attack them through the air or stick to pounding the ball on the ground, trusting their veteran offensive line to open up plenty of holes for whoever is carrying the ball for the Gophers.
But who will score more points on Saturday?
It might be closer than Gopher fans are comfortable with at times as the defense continues to work out the kinks and the offense develops a new rhythm without Ibrahim, but Minnesota should come out on top in the end. Minnesota 38, Miami (Ohio) 17.