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Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview and Prediction

Author:
Rodney Smith

Rodney Smith

Middle Tennessee and Minnesota are both coming off wins over Power 5 teams last weekend. On Saturday, they'll square off in Minneapolis with each team looking to keep its winning streak alive.

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The Blue Raiders look like the toughest competition Minnesota has had to face to this point of the season, and present the last hurdle the Gophers must clear to head into Big Ten play with an unblemished record.

Middle Tennessee at Minnesota

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Big Ten Network

Spread: Minnesota -10.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill

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Stockstill has underrated mobility, yet he is easily the best pocket passer the Gophers have faced this season. Will Minnesota keep him in the pocket and trust its veteran secondary, or do the Gophers attack Stockstill and force him outside – accepting the risk of his playmaking ability on the run? Spotty defensive line play by Minnesota through the first two games makes it difficult to come up with a game plan to stop Stockstill.

2. The Gophers’ rushing attack

Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks both excelled against Oregon State, as the Gophers wore down the Beavers on the ground. Minnesota should be able to do the same again this weekend, as its offensive line has a significant size and talent advantage over the Blue Raiders’ defensive front. If the Gophers have success on the ground early, this one could be a snoozer. On the other hand, if they struggle to find running lanes, that could put quarterback Conor Rhoda in a shootout with Stockstill, which is not the ideal situation for Minnesota based on each signal-caller’s skill set.

3. Can Middle Tennessee get points early?

The Blue Raiders have scored a combined nine points in the first halves of their two games this season. It cost them dearly against Vanderbilt and had them playing catch-up to beat Syracuse. With the effectiveness of Minnesota's rushing attack looming, Middle Tennessee needs to figure out how to score early and force the Gophers into a back-and-forth tilt. That will require Stockstill to force the issue through the air early on in an attempt to loosen up Minnesota's defensive front and get the secondary on its heels. If Middle Tennessee doesn't find a way to put a couple of touchdowns on the board by halftime, this one is probably already over.

Final Analysis

A win is a win, and P.J. Fleck's teams win by any means necessary. His teams have won 17 of their last 20 games, and they've done so by playing sound defense, pounding the ball and making big plays through the air when needed. The Gophers are buying into both his energy and his philosophies, and you can expect them to be locked in on doing whatever is necessary to stop the Blue Raiders. Look for another high-scoring effort from Minnesota, this time with a couple of more big plays from Conor Rhoda through the air, as the Golden Gophers wrap up the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 3-0 record.

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Prediction: Minnesota 45, Middle Tennessee 16

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, Bleacher Report and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.