The Minnesota Golden Gophers will hit the road for the first time this season when they head to Boulder to take on the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday afternoon. The two programs have squared off three times heading into this weekend — though Saturday will be their first collision in nearly three decades — as Colorado looks for its fourth win in as many games in a series that debuted in 1972, with the Buffaloes also victorious in 1991 and '92.
Meanwhile, Minnesota has scored a total of just 26 points in those three games against Colorado, 20 of which came in 1992. Minnesota will enter Saturday's meeting having scored 31 points in each of the last two weeks against Ohio State and Miami (Ohio), however, a sign that perhaps the Golden Gophers can buck their historical trend of low-scoring outputs against the Buffaloes.
Colorado, on the other hand, has had a starkly different game script in each of its first two games of 2021. The Buffaloes held FCS Northern Colorado to 256 total yards and a single touchdown in a 35-7 season-opening win. Week 2 wasn't as dynamic, as Colorado's offense went scoreless for the final 47 minutes of the game. A fourth-quarter Texas A&M touchdown stood as the only second-half points by either side, and the Aggies escaped Empower Field at Mile High in Denver with a 10-7 win.
Minnesota at Colorado
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Colorado -3
When Minnesota Has the Ball
After eclipsing just 30 points in just three of seven games a season ago, the Golden Gophers have surpassed that mark in each of their first two contests in 2021, though that total has resulted in quite different outcomes: a 14-point loss to the Buckeyes and a five-point win against the RedHawks. Tanner Morgan hasn't lit the scoreboard on fire in his redshirt senior season but has been solid, completing 22 of his 42 passes over the first two weeks for a total of 317 yards and three touchdowns to two of his receivers — two to Dylan Wright, one to Daniel Jackson.
Morgan's fellow fifth-year senior Mohamed Ibrahim opened plenty of eyes when he rushed 30 times for 163 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Ohio State, but the intrigue quickly turned to despair when Ibrahim left the game with what would ultimately be a season-ending lower leg injury. In stepped Trey Potts, who — after rushing 10 times for 34 yards against the Buckeyes — carried the load against the RedHawks to the tune of 178 yards and two touchdowns on a whopping 34 attempts.
That ground game will face a stiff test, as the Buffaloes have given up just 58.5 rushing yards per game — ranking second in the Pac-12 and 13th in FBS thus far — thanks in large part to its ability to hold Northern Colorado to just 20 yards on 18 carries. Colorado's defense has largely excelled across the board to begin the season, allowing a Pac-12-best 17 total points over the first two weeks. The unit held Northern Colorado and quarterback Dylan McCaffrey (transfer from Michigan) to just 236 passing yards before Texas A&M fell short of 200 yards through the air (starting quarterback Haynes King suffered what ended up being a broken leg in the first quarter) and barely eclipsed 100 yards on the ground.
When Colorado Has the Ball
Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis has shockingly been even less prolific than his counterpart Morgan in the first two games. Lewis has passed for 191 yards combined against Northern Colorado and Texas A&M, completing 10 of his passes for 102 yards and a touchdown against the Bears before connecting on 13 of his 25 attempts for just 89 yards and an interception in the close loss to the Aggies.
No Buffaloes receiver has notched more than three receptions in either game so far this year. La'Vontae Shenault and Montana Lemonious-Craig each caught a pair of passes for 23 yards in the opener — with Lemonious-Craig hauling in Lewis' lone touchdown — as each of Lewis' six other completions found a different receiver. Lemonious-Craig went without a catch against Texas A&M, and Shenault was held out before head coach Karl Dorrell announced this week that the talented freshman has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. That means the ground game will have to continue carrying the load; the Buffaloes followed up a 283-yard rushing output in the opener with 173 yards on the ground against the Aggies.
As would be expected after a pair of high-scoring games, Minnesota's defense isn't exactly pacing the Big Ten in most areas. In fact, the Golden Gophers' 35.5 points allowed per game is the worst mark in the conference, while their 418 total yards allowed per game is surpassed only by llinois and Ohio State. To make matters worse, the Golden Gophers are still in search of their first sack of the season, one of just 12 FBS programs yet to take down an opposing quarterback behind the line of scrimmage. One key point to watch: of the 71 points Minnesota has allowed this season, 58 have come in the second half. If the Golden Gophers can bring their second-half defense anywhere near its first-half performance, that would be a major step in the right direction.
Both of these teams have squared off with top-10 opponents in the opening weeks. Though neither came out on top in those games, they've been able to pick up some early-season insights on areas to refine their game as they prepare to head into the meat of their season. Look for Colorado's defense to keep Minnesota's offense in check while the Golden Gophers will aim to limit the Buffaloes' second-half scoring and halt a discouraging trend from their first two games.
Prediction: Minnesota 26, Colorado 23
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— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.