Gophers Must Slow Charlie Jones, Let Tanner Morgan Cook vs Purdue

PHOTO: NIKOS FRAZIER - JOURNAL COURIER (VIA AP)

The (#21) Minnesota Gophers are 4-0 and looking to continue their dominating start to the 2022 season vs the 2-2 Purdue Boilermakers. It’s Homecoming in Dinkytown and Huntington Bank Stadium is celebrating with a “Stripe Out”.

So if you’re attending Saturday’s home-opener in-person, know whether your section is wearing “gold” or “maroon”. Suggestion for U of M Athletics: Next time your promotions team comes up with an idea like this, the budget should probably be deep enough to provide the fan attire needed to pull it off.

The stripe out is secondary to what happens on the field, though. And under PJ Fleck (and throughout most of history), the Minnesota Gophers have mostly dominated (4-1) the Boilermakers. Four wins over a Big Ten team is tied, with Nebraska and Illinois, for PJ’s high as Gophers head coach (according to the media notes sent out by Gopher Football this week).

So, how does Fleck & Co grab that 5th dub over the Fighting Jeff Brohms? Let’s take a look.

1.) Slow (WR) Charlie Jones

Charlie Jones might be the best wide receiver in the Big Ten and nobody would have known had he not transferred from Iowa to Purdue last offseason. Jones’ 41 receptions through four games is BY FAR the most in the conference — 2nd: Cam Camper – Indiana (33). He’s number one in yards (533) and touchdowns (7) too.

If Brohm has to, he will force the ball to Charlie Jones, who has 52 targets (PFF) on the season, more than double Payne Durham’s 25, which sits 2nd on the team. Durham is a tight end, though. Next in line for wide receiving targets is 17, where both TJ Sheffield and Tyrone Tracy sit. That means Jones gets three passes thrown his way before any other WR gets one.

In other words, the 2022 Boilermakers have not shown they can pass the football with success, unless it’s thrown to Charlie Jones. Joe Rossi and the Gopher defense will do their best to force them elsewhere on Saturday.

2.) Stay Aggressive on Offense

Under PJ Fleck, the Minnesota Gophers are going to run the football and control the clock, especially against teams like Purdue, who like to beat themselves with over-aggressiveness on offense. But this weekend, Fleck needs to let Tanner Morgan and Kirk Ciarrocca continue to cook.

Mo Ibrahim and the Minnesota running game has been great for the last five years. What’s held the Gophers back in years other than 2019, is their passing game. But in 2022, that script has flipped. Tanner Morgan has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country and his effectiveness is the main factor to four blowout victories to begin the season.

If the Boilermakers pack the box with defenders, the Gophers need to make them pay. Just like they did last week vs Michigan State, when Morgan went 23/26 for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns. A performance that earned him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.

3.) Stay Focused

Confidence is necessary to success. Overconfidence often destroys it. The Minnesota Gophers showed the college football world, last weekend, that they could be a REAL problem in the Big Ten this season. Now that everyone is paying attention, focus can naturally wander.

The Gophers should be feeling themselves. They’re the only team, other than Alabama, that currently ranks in the top-15 nationally, in both scoring offense (45.8 PPG – 11th) and scoring defense (6.0 PPG – 2nd). They also rank in the top-15 in total offense (543.0 YPG – 3rd) and total defense (187.8 YPG – 1st), too. Alabama and Georgia are the only other schools who can boast about that.

So, PJ Fleck & Co should be confident. They have a really, really good team. But in the Big Ten, you need to bring it each and every week. Luckily, the Gophers’ head coach takes the “one week at a time” mantra to an extreme level, labeling every week its own “Championship Season”.

If there’s any team that won’t be allowed to feel themselves too much, it should be the Minnesota Gophers.

Prediction

The ELITE Minnesota defense slows Charlie Jones and reels in multiple interceptions. Morgan goes for over 250 yards again and Mo Ibrahim adds a couple hundred (or so) more yards to his Heisman candidacy. Touchdowns everywhere. Gophers win big, 42-17.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan