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Kicking the (Fake) Tires: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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It’s a bye week for K-State and Minnesota. So we’re holding a fake game in a fake city to keep ourselves entertained.

Minnesota v Oregon State Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

K-State has a bye week. Minnesota has a bye week. They’re great for the coaches and players to get some rest, get healthy, and work on solutions. But they suck for fans. So we’re filling your bye week with a fake matchup with Minnesota.

Excitement envelops the Twin Cities’ college team these days. Hot-list coach PJ Fleck took over in the offseason, and the impeccably dressed coach (seriously, quarter-zip with a tie? Swoon) has the Goofers off to a 3-0 start.

K-State’s season prospects lost a lot of shine with last week’s loss at Vanderbilt. The Wildcats look to gain a fake boost in momentum with a win against Minnesota.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Jesse Ertz, 36-65-2, 55.4% completion, 587 yards, 9.0 yards/attempt, 4 TDs, 195.7 yards/game

Rushing: Alex Barnes, 33 carries, 162 yards, 4.9 yards/carry, 2 TDs, 54.0 yards/game

Receiving: Byron Pringle, 6 receptions, 146 yards, 24.3 yards/reception, 1 TD, 73.0 yards/game

Minnesota

Passing: Conor Rhoda, 30-46-1, 65.2% completion, 456 yards, 9.9 yards/attempt, 2 TDs, 152.0 yards/game

Rushing: Rodney Smith, 69 carries, 275 yards, 4.0 yards/carry, 1 TD, 91.7 yards/game

Receiving: Tyler Johnson, 12 receptions, 282 yards, 23.5 yards/reception, 2 TDs, 94.0 yards/game

As was the case last year, Ertz leads K-State in carries and yards gained, too. The Wildcats will look to establish the QB run game to force opponents to commit extra defensive attention to it. But can the Wildcats take advantage of that extra attention by connecting for big plays in the passing game? Not against Vanderbilt, where a few Ertz misfires and at least six drops by the wide receivers doomed the offense. If that becomes the norm, then a long season awaits.

Minnesota’s raw numbers, especially in the run game, aren’t much to look at. Johnson has been the big-play threat through the air and has been targeted more than a third of the time. DJ Reed needs to have a big day, as limiting Johnson’s impact will go a long way toward limiting Minnesota’s ability to score points.

Advanced Stats

K-State offense vs. Minnesota defense

Defense has carried the day for the Gophers, allowing only 24 total points through three games. Minnesota ranks in the top 30 by all four major statistical categories tracked by S&P. The teams will match strength-on-strength in the run game, where the Wildcats are ninth in Success Rate and Minnesota’s defense is 25th. Expect few big plays, with the Gophers sporting a top-10 Rushing IsoPPP rating.

Can Ertz and the wide receivers return to form in the passing game? The Wildcats’ Success Rate and IsoPPP tumbled precipitously after the disastrous outing against Vanderbilt, and Minnesota is a top-30 outfit by both metrics. K-State need not be outstanding here, but 10-28 for 76 yards won’t get it done.

Minnesota’s defense is pretty disruptive, with a top-20 overall Havoc Rate. K-State didn’t handle Vandy’s aggressive defense very well, so we’ll see what kind of adjustments Bill Snyder and Dana Dimel have in mind for UM.

K-State defense vs. Minnesota offense

Minnesota is only average efficiency-wise and terrible at creating big plays on the ground. This looks a lot like the Commodores’ rushing attack that K-State shut down.

As usual, expect the Gophers to move the ball efficiently through the air, where K-State ranks 123rd in Success Rate. The big question will be whether Minnesota can hit on big plays to Tyler Johnson or Nate Wozniak. If not, then it’s unlikely the Gophers can sustain drives and score points. And UM is 87th nationally at finishing drives.

K-State hasn’t been overly disruptive overall, as expected, but Will Geary and Reggie Walker made plays and forced holding penalties against Vanderbilt. Minnesota’s offensive line has held up pretty well thus far.

Conclusion

Get ready for another low-possession game. The teams are 110th and 111th in adjusted pace. Possessions and points will be in short supply this weekend in “Des Moines.”

Wildcats 17, Gophers 14