Minnesota Should Feel Really Good About Their Chances in the Big Ten West

AP Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn

The Minnesota Gophers dropped their season opener to the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday night. There were a lot of positives to take out of such a tough loss, however. PJ Fleck made gutty decisions that paid off, Tanner Morgan made a plethora of tough throws, especially as the game wore on, and Mohamed Ibrahim went off behind an offensive line that held its own vs a top-5 defensive unit, nationally.

Yes, the defense needs to tighten up, but this is an Ohio State offense with playmakers that anyone else in the Big Ten can only dream of.

Feel Good Weekend

After the game, Buckeyes Head Coach Ryan Day credited PJ Fleck and Minnesota for their complimentary football and called the Gophers “a really good team.” However, the reason Minnesota should feel optimistic isn’t thanks to the outcome from Thursday night or Coach Day applauding their effort. They should feel good after watching the rest of the Big Ten West flounder this weekend.

An uninspiring performance from Northwestern led to a 38-21 shellacking vs Michigan State. Wisconsin spit the bit vs Penn State, turning it over four times in their loss. And Scott Frost was only up 17-10 at half vs Fordham, before pulling away and winning big in the 2nd half. Iowa looked good vs Indiana so I’m going to hope that was more of a fluke while the rest of the games were closer to reality. This is my blog, not yours.

No matter, Minnesota should feel really good about where they are compared to the rest of the division.

No Mo, No Problem

Mohamed Ibrahim left the Ohio State game in a boot which is never a good sign. He ended his night rushing for 163 yards and 2 TD’s. With the way Minnesota’s offensive line is built, I could average 2.5 yards per carry (Mo averaged 5.5). We saw Trey Potts run for 34 yards on 10 carries Thursday but he and Cam Wiley won’t be the only backs we see in Ibrahim’s absence. Minnesota’s running back room is one of their strongest, thanks to repeated success on the recruiting trail.

If Mo is indeed out for an extended period of time, I see the Gophers taking a 2019 San Francisco 49ers approach to their run game. A three-headed monster at running back complimented by a quarterback that isn’t asked to do too much but won’t make a lot of mistakes, either.

Tanner Garoppolo

Like Jimmy Garoppolo, Tanner Morgan doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards a game. He needs to take care of the ball, deliver accurate throws and understand when to take shots down the field. One of Trey Potts, Cam Wiley or Bryce Williams should be ready to step up and be Raheem Moster. The others will settle in as Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida.

This style of spreading the wealth and wearing down teams could end up being better than giving Ibrahim the ball 30 times, especially when looking at Minnesota’s future backfield. If Mo is indeed out, these backs are about to get a wealth of experience that only playing can give.

The Road Ahead

The month of October will be a crucial one for this Minnesota Gopher team. They’ll head to West Lafayette to face off vs Purdue. Then, they’ll come home for two against Nebraska and Maryland before visiting Northwestern to finish the month. Those are four games the Gophers should win.

If they can steamroll through the rest of September’s non-conference and win those October Big Ten matchups mentioned above, they’ll set themselves up for a November that will decide the Big Ten West. Iowa and Wisconsin will both be on the schedule and revenge will be on the minds of Minnesota faithful.

The Big Ten West is as open as it’s ever been. This year will fall in the disappointment category if the Gophers aren’t battling for a spot for the Big Ten Championship, come late November.

Stephen Strom | Minnesota Sports Fan

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