The Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-0) welcome the Western Illinois Leathernecks (0-1) to Huntington Bank Stadium on Saturday as they look to remain undefeated in Week 2.
Western Illinois, an FCS program that competes in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, finished 2-9 last season. It was their fourth consecutive losing season under former head coach Jared Elliott, who was fired and replaced by Kansas Wesleyan head coach Myers Hendrickson.
Can Western Illinois score on offense?
I think the Leathernecks will have their work cut out for them against the Gophers’ defense, which limited New Mexico State to 35 snaps and zero points in the season opener.
Fifth-year senior Henry Ogala got the start at quarterback, but was pulled in favor of junior Nick Davenport after Western Illinois went three-and-out on their opening possession of the second half. Ogala finished 12-of-19 for 105 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He was sacked twice, which may have been why the Leathernecks opted for Davenport, who is much more mobile and ended up leading Western Illinois in rushing yards by game’s end.
Taking over as the Leathernecks trailed 21-7 in the third quarter, Davenport led three scoring drives in the second half, all which culminated in him connecting with Sacred Heart transfer wide receiver Naseim Brantley for a touchdown. Brantley, making his debut for Western Illinois, made clear that he is the Leathernecks’ chief home run threat on offense, recording touchdown catches of 51, 44, and 32 yards to lead the team with 171 receiving yards.
Western Illinois did not have much of a running game to speak of, as running backs Ludovick Choquette and Erin Collins combined for 36 rushing yards on 13 carries. As I mentioned earlier, Davenport led the team in rushing with 62 yards on eight rushing attempts.
If Davenport draws the start against the Gophers, Minnesota’s defense will need to keep him contained in the pocket and prevent him from extending plays with his legs. The Gophers’ secondary had a solid showing against the Aggies in Week 1, blanketing receivers in coverage down field to give their defensive line time to collapse the pocket. Hopefully Minnesota can do the same against the Leathernecks and shut down Brantley.
Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score
The Leathernecks surrendered 42 points and 577 totals yards of offense to the Skyhawks in their season-opening loss, including 317 passing yards and 260 rushing yards.
After Minnesota punter Mark Crawford was forced to wait until the fourth quarter of the Gophers’ season opener to make his first appearance, he may not see the field at all against Western Illinois. I would not expect Minnesota to stray too far from the offensive game plan that worked so well against New Mexico State, asking quarterback Tanner Morgan to air it out when the occasion calls for it but mostly calling for him to hand the ball off to Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts as the offensive line pushes around the Leathernecks’ defensive front.
But who will score more points on Saturday?
This game will not be close. Minnesota 48, Western Illinois 0.