Welcome back! Gopher football is here again, as Minnesota opens the season on Thursday, Sept. 1, hosting former head coach Jerry Kill and the New Mexico State Aggies under the lights at Huntington Bank Stadium. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Can New Mexico State score on offense?
Based on their 23-12 season-opening loss to Nevada last Saturday, in which they were only able to score a touchdown and a field goal against a Wolf Pack defense that returned three starters from a unit that ranked 70th in scoring defense a season ago, I’d say no one is going to mistake the Aggies for an offensive juggernaut any time soon.
The quarterback position was a big problem for New Mexico State in the loss, as JUCO transfer Diego Pavia had a disastrous debut. He was 9-of-20 for 75 passing yards and turned the ball over four times in the first half alone, throwing three interceptions and losing one fumble. Freshman signal caller Gavin Frakes took over on the second possession of the second half and led the Aggies on their only two scoring drives of the game before throwing an interception of his own.
The offensive line protected well enough, as Nevada failed to record a sack.
The Aggies wanted to run the ball, but the Wolf Pack ensured there was no running room to be had. Northeastern Oklahoma A&M transfer running back Jamoni Jones was bottled up for 28 rushing yards on 11 carries, and the offense averaged 3.4 yards per carry.
Expect New Mexico State to try to establish the run again Thursday night and test the Gophers’ defensive front, with three new starters on the defensive line and linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin stepping in to replace Jack Gibbens, last year’s leading tackler. It all starts up front for Minnesota. If they can consistently stop the run and put pressure on Pavia or Frakes, they are likely to force the kind of mistakes that cost them the game against Nevada.
Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score
It’s difficult to say whether the Aggies’ defense is much improved from last season, because I don’t know if Nevada’s offense under first-year head coach Ken Wilson provided much of a test.
On paper, at least, New Mexico State’s defense hold their own against the Wolf Pack. But Nevada certainly looked the part of a team replacing a three-year starter at quarterback and their top five pass catchers from a season ago. Between two different quarterbacks, they completed 60 percent of their passes and only threw for 78 passing yards.
The ground game was where the Wolf Pack wore down the Aggies. With their top two rushers from last season in the backfield, Nevada put the game in the hands of running backs Toa Taua and Devonte Lee, who rushed for a combined 170 yards on 32 carries.
The Aggies’ offense also did them no favors, turning the ball over five times.
Expect New Mexico State’s secondary, which allowed 291 passing yards per game last season, to get a much stiffer test from Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan and the Gophers’ receiving corps led by Chris Autman-Bell. Make no mistake, the Gophers will look to get running backs Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts rolling early behind a new-look offensive line that likely will need time before it looks like a cohesive unit. But I have to imagine offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca will look to his passing game to help open up the box for Ibrahim and Potts.
But who will score more points on Thursday?
It’ll be a blowout, but I have my doubts the Gophers will blow the Aggies off the field in the way many fans would like to see. Minnesota 35, New Mexico State 10.