Jerry Kill and his Minnesota Golden Gophers had big plans heading into 2015. Two games into the season, the Gopher offense has emerged as an area of concern and a possible hurdle in the way of getting to where Kill wants those plans to take them.
Kent State comes to Minneapolis on the back of a 45-point performance against Delaware State — two weeks removed from a blowout loss at the hands of Illinois. Minnesota would certainly like to duplicate the effort put forth by the Illini in this one, especially with only two weeks separating them from a trip to Northwestern to kick off the conference season.
Kent State at Minnesota
Kickoff: Noon ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Minnesota -23.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Minnesota establish an aerial attack?
Mitch Leidner has taken good care of the ball in the pocket, however, he has done very little in the way of making opposing defenses respect the Gopher passing attack. He has averaged just 215 yards through the first two games and tossed only three scores. Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt was able to toss four touchdown strikes against Kent State off of short, turnover-originated drives. Kill would likely feel better going forward if he saw Leidner lead some long drives with his arm on Saturday.
2. Will Kent State be able to move the ball?
The Golden Flashes were only able to gain 245 yards against an Illinois defense that isn't exactly among the nation's elite. Enter Minnesota, with a defensive unit that many around the country do feel is elite — starting with their corners. Kent State isn't going to be able to push the Gophers around up front and establish a running game, so they'll likely need to attack Minnesota's secondary often to have any chance in this one.
3. Can the Gophers avoid a letdown?
This is the first of back-to-back games Minnesota will play against MAC teams. They'll be heavily favored in both, and there's not likely to be a lot of motivation for the players to not look past these games and ahead to Northwestern. As discussed, Minnesota's offense hasn't exactly put points on the scoreboard at will this season, so a slow start and early deficit could change the complexion of this game for its entirety.
Despite a lackluster start to the season, the Gophers are still the class of the Big Ten West — even if the bulk of that can be attributed to the defense. Minnesota's personnel on both sides of the ball are going to be able to dominate every one-on-one matchup on the field, leading to a long day for the visitors. Jerry Kill will have his players focused and ready as always — likely using this game to improve some glaring weaknesses. You'll likely see some of the up-tempo attack you saw toward the end of the TCU game from Leidner, leading to more than enough points to secure a Minnesota victory early.