Minnesota has a shot to do something it hasn't accomplished since the program's glory days when the Golden Gophers hit the road to face Oregon State on Saturday.
If Minnesota (1-0) can take down the Beavers, P.J. Fleck will be the first Golden Gophers head coach to start 2-0 in his debut season since since Murray Warmath rattled off four straight wins to open the 1954 season. Fleck became the first Minnesota head coach since 1986 to win his first game at the helm when the Golden Gophers outlasted Buffalo for a 17-7 victory in week one.
Oregon State (1-1) looks vulnerable after escaping with a 35-32 victory over Portland State this past weekend. The Beavers needed a 17-yard touchdown pass from Jake Luton to Isaiah Hodgins with 1:08 left to edge the Vikings. Oregon State has had difficulty stopping opponents so far, yielding 520 yards and 45 points per game.
Minnesota leads the all-time series with Oregon State 3-1. The two teams met in Minneapolis last season, with the Golden Gophers claiming a 30-23 victory.
Minnesota at Oregon State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 9 at 10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Oregon State -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Minnesota doubling up on quarterbacks
Fleck didn't shy away from rotating quarterbacks in Minnesota's opener against Buffalo. Demry Croft and Conor Rhoda shared snaps for four quarters with mixed results. Croft and Rhoda threw for a combined 239 yards and a touchdown on 19-of-32 passing. Each quarterback led a first-quarter touchdown drive. That promising start did not last. The Golden Gophers offense sputtered over the final three quarters, and Minnesota did not score again until tacking on a field goal with 2:05 left in the fourth. Croft showed off better running ability, while Rhoda was the better passer. Neither quarterback did enough to separate himself from the other. Fleck plans to alternate quarterbacks again against Oregon State. Will it negatively impact the offense again? Minnesota averaged only 4.92 yards per play against Buffalo. Similar struggles against better opponents could prove costly for the Golden Gophers down the road.
2. Can Oregon State get stops?
Two consecutive opponents have shredded Oregon State's defense. If the Beavers can't patch up the holes, it could be a long season once they enter Pac-12 play. Oregon State currently ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense and last in scoring defense. Against Portland State, run defense emerged as the biggest problem. Oregon State reacted to the Vikings breaking through the line like a matador staring down an angry bull. The Beavers yielded 291 yards on the ground. Portland State found free running lanes and shed tacklers throughout the game. It didn't help that a bruised hip knocked out linebacker Manase Hungalu for multiple key series in the second half. Hungalu finished with a team-high nine tackles, two tackles for a loss, and a 21-yard pick-six during the third quarter, but the senior was on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter. Pass defense proved to be the problem area against Colorado State a week earlier. Rams quarterback Nick Stevens threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns in a 58-27 beatdown.
3. Will inexperience catch up to the Golden Gophers?
Minnesota entered the 2017 season as one of the youngest FBS teams. 52 players on the Golden Gophers' 114-man roster are freshmen or redshirt freshmen. There are 79 total underclassmen on the roster. Only 14 Minnesota players have started 10 or more games in their college careers. Inexperience showed early against Buffalo. The Golden Gophers struggled to contain the pass early, and the Bulls threw for 66 yards on their first-quarter touchdown drive. Minnesota did adjust in the second half, however, limiting Buffalo to 66 passing yards over the final two quarters. Still, that's not good news going up against Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton. The junior has been a bit erratic with interceptions in his first two games, but he can sling the ball. Luton has totaled 539 yards while completing 62.5 percent of his passes so far.
Oregon State won't get many better opportunities to pick up a win than this one. Minnesota is deeply inexperienced on both sides of the ball and appears vulnerable to dropping games in a tough road environment. The problem for the Beavers is that they have too many defensive issues to count on stopping teams at critical junctures. The Golden Gophers are still figuring things out on offense, but their defense should do enough to hold Oregon State in check.
Prediction: Minnesota 24, Oregon State 21
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.