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Minnesota Football: RoWINg to Bowling Green - Quick Lane Bowl Preview

The Gophers will be looking to avenge their 2021 loss

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Bowling Green at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-7) have a date with the Bowling Green Falcons (7-5) in the Quick Lane Bowl at 1 p.m. CT on Tuesday, Dec. 26, in Detroit, Michigan.

Can Bowling Green score on offense?

The Falcons rank 86th in rushing offense (142.2 rushing yards per game), 106th in passing offense (185.7 passing yards per game), and 71st in scoring offense (26.3 points per game).

The Bowling Green ground game is a huge question mark heading into the bowl game, as starting running back Terion Stewart is said to be a game-time decision. He led the Falcons with 125 carries for 762 rushing yards and eight touchdowns but missed their last three games due to a right leg injury. Second-string running back Ta’ron Keith stepped in to carry load in Stewart’s absence, but he is no longer with the team after entering the transfer portal. His departure also impacts Bowling Green’s passing game, as Keith was the team’s second-leading receiver with 44 receptions for 457 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

If Stewart is unavailable, look for the Falcons to lean on quarterback Connor Bazelak to move the ball. A former starting quarterback for Missouri and Indiana, Bazelak was sharp down the stretch for Bowling Green, completing 66.3 percent of his passes and throwing six touchdowns and one interception over their final four games. His favorite target is tight end Harold Fannin Jr., who leads the team with 39 receptions for 573 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

It would make sense for the Falcons to attack the Gophers’ defensive backfield, with All-Big Ten free safety Tyler Nubin likely to sit out as he prepares for the NFL Draft. It is unclear whether strong safeties Darius Green and Aidan Gousby will be healthy enough to play. Redshirt freshman Coleman Bryson and true freshman Kerry Brown could be your starting safeties. We will also have to wait and see who will be stepping in for Joe Rossi as the defensive play-caller. Head coach P.J. Fleck has declined to say who that will be, but an educated guess would be safeties coach Danny Collins, who was something of an understudy with Rossi.

Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score

Bowling Green is solid defensively, ranking 42nd nationally in rushing defense (137.2 rushing yards allowed per game), 25th in passing defense (192.7 passing yards allowed per game), and 48th in scoring defense (23.5 points allowed per game).

Among the names to watch on defense are linebackers Darren Anders and Cashius Howell. Anders is the team’s leading tackler with 83 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, four pass break-ups, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recovers. Howell has a staggering 9.5 sacks this season.

The Falcons will be without starting cornerback Jalen Huskey, a First-Team All-MAC selection who entered the transfer portal earlier this month and has since committed to Maryland. Huskey was third on the team in total tackles (53) and tied for the team lead in pass break-ups (6) and interceptions (4). Cornerback Davon Ferguson matched him in pass break-ups and cornerback Jordan Oladokun also has four interceptions to his name.

Redshirt senior quarterback Cole Kramer is making his first (and final) career start in this game, but true freshman running back Darius Taylor is expected to be back after missing seven of the Gophers’ last eight games due to injury. So expect a game plan built around the Minnesota offensive line imposing their will on the Falcons’ defensive front and opening up holes for Taylor.

But who will score more points on Saturday?

The Gophers had a miserable November, losing four straight to end the regular season and only making a bowl game by the grace of God after finishing with a 5-7 record. There are also defensive concerns with Nubin unlikely to play and defensive coordinator Joe Rossi already on to his new gig in East Lansing. But Fleck knows how to prepare for bowl games. Minnesota is 4-0 in the postseason in his tenure. I think they figure out how to improve to 5-0, though I imagine it will be in ugly fashion. Minnesota 26, Bowling Green 24.