Minnesota vs Eastern Michigan – Gophers Guide to Avoiding Upset in Week 2

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Minnesota
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota vs Eastern Michigan Preview: The (1-0) Minnesota Gophers will host the (FCS) (1-0) Eastern Michigan Eagles on Saturday night, in week 2 of their 2023 season, following a nail-biting 13-10 mud fight victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in week 1.

The Gophers are 20.5 point favorites, entering the matchup but many believe that spread is way too large. Eastern Michigan is starting a new quarterback this season, Austin Smith, who threw for 175 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT last week in a 33-23 win over the Howard Bison.

When/Where is Minnesota vs Eastern Michigan?

Date/Time: Sept. 9, 2023 / 6:30 p.m. CT

Site: Minneapolis

Stadium: Huntington Bank Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 50,805

Series Overall: First meeting

How to watch Minnesota vs Eastern Michigan:

Big Ten Network: Connor Onion (PXP), Tommy Olson (Analyst), Audrey Dahlgren (Reporter)

How to listen to Minnesota vs Eastern Michigan:

KFAN | SiriusXM: 113 or 205; SXM App: Mike Grimm (PXP), Darrell Thompson (Analyst), Justin Gaard (Reporter), Tanner Hoops (Host), Dan Rowbotham (Engineer)

Minnesota vs Eastern Michigan storylines to watch:

Minnesota vs Eastern Michigan Gophers Eagles preview week 2
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles, who are expected to be a top three or four team in the MAC this season, put up a lot of points last week vs Howard but two of their four touchdowns came on special teams, when they returned both one kick and punt return for touchdowns, and they didn’t score any points in the 2nd half.

Eastern Michigan jumped out to a big 30-6 lead vs the Bison but it didn’t last, and in the end, their defense allowed over 400 yards of total offense, including 204 yards rushing. They allowed Howard lead running back, Eden James, rush for 96 yards on just 9 carries, or 10.7 YPC.

Expect the Gophers to try and take advantage of EMU’s poor run defense last week to get their running backs going, after gaining just 2.2 yards per carry as a team vs Nebraska. If they can run the ball down the Eagles throats, like Howard did, Minnesota should coast to victory.

If they struggle to move the ball on the ground and EMU’s special teams unit finds the endzone again, the Gophers could find themselves in trouble vs a lesser opponent for the 2nd week in a row. 247 Sports‘ Eastern Michigan expert actually picked the Eagles to upset the Gophers in a close 20-17 or 17-14 game.

3 Keys to a Gopher victory:

1. Get the offense rolling: There’s no doubt the biggest concern regarding the Minnesota Gophers, following week 1, is their offense. They couldn’t run the ball vs Nebraska and that made it more difficult for Athan Kaliakmanis to move the ball through the air. Expect PJ to try and establish the run early. His success with that effort could be the difference between a disappointing nailbiter vs a FBS over FCS blowout.

2. Special Teams can’t lose the game: (K) Dragan Kesich hit the game-winning field goal as time expired vs the Huskers but Minnesota’s special teams unit struggled throughout the contest, leading up to that moment. Kesich missed a 54-yarder in the first half and the Gophers kickoff team gave up a 63-yard return to start the second. They cannot allow the Eagles special teams, who returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns in week 1, to flip the field like Nebraska did, or god forbid, score touchdowns.

3. Defense needs to remain elite: The Gopher defense has been one of the best in the Big Ten, since Joe Rossi took it over midway through the 2018 season. They lost half of their starters from the 2022 season but that didn’t seem to slow them down vs Nebraska. If they can keep Eastern Michigan out of the endzone, they should give the offense a great chance at winning big. (S) Tyler Nubin is an early Hesiman candidate, after snagging two interceptions in week 1. One or two more would grow his NFL Draft stock even more.

5 Things to know (via Gopher Sports)

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Minnesota
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

1. RV/RV Minnesota looks to improve to 2-0 as it hosts Eastern Michigan for the first time ever Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.

2. Minnesota is coming off of a dramatic 13-10 win over Nebraska in the team’s season opener on Aug. 31 as Dragan Kesich hit a 47-yard field goal as time expired. It was the first game-ending field goal for Minnesota since Ryan Santoso made an 18-yard field goal to beat Colorado State in the first overtime in 2015, while the last walk-off field goal in regulation for the Gophers came in 2003 when Rhys Llyod made a 35-yarder as time expired to defeat Wisconsin. Trailing 10-3 with 12:42 to play, it was Minnesota’s biggest fourth quarter comeback since also coming back from seven down (three separate times) in a double-overtime win at Fresno State in 2019. It was the biggest home comeback since rallying from a 21-10 deficit against Iowa with 13:51 to play in a 22-21 win in 2011.

3. Dragan Kesich has been named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week, while Tyler Nubin is Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. This is the first Big Ten player of the week recognition for each player. Kesich kicked the game-winning 47-yard field goal with zero time remaining on the clock to break a 10-10 tie and lift Minnesota to a three-point victory. It was his second field goal of the game, as he opened the scoring for the Gophers with a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter. Nubin recorded two interceptions, one in each half. His second interception came with less than a minute left in the game and was returned 14 yards. A few plays later, Kesich kicked the winning field goal. Nubin also added three tackles in the win.

4. All the preseason love that Tyler Nubin received, which included watch list appearances for the Bednarik Award, Nagurski Trophy and Thorpe Award, and preseason All-America honors by The Athletic, Sporting News and Phil Steele, was backed up by his performance Thursday. In addition to his stats as noted above, Nubin was graded by Pro Football Focus at 91.5 overall on defense. That ranked 16th out of over 3,600 FBS players, second overall in the Big Ten, and No. 3 among all safeties. His coverage grade of 92.5 was the best among safeties in the country, tops of any player in the Big Ten, the second best for defensive backs and fourth overall in the nation.

5. The 2023 campaign is the seventh for head coach P.J. Fleck at Minnesota, where he holds a record of 45-27. He is already fifth in program history for overall wins and Big Ten wins (27) and sixth in games coached (72). Fleck’s .625 win percentage is third best among the 11 Minnesota coaches with at least 45 games under their helm behind only Henry L. Williams (.786, 1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (.716, 1932-41, ’45-50). In his 11th season overall as a college head coach, Fleck is 75-49 (.605).

History between Minnesota vs Eastern Michigan (via Gopher Sports):

  • Minnesota and Eastern Michigan meet for the first time ever Saturday. The Golden Gophers have played 86 different teams currently in the FBS, and they are 63-21-2 when playing those teams for the first time.
  • Coupled with next week’s game at North Carolina, who Minnesota has also never faced, it’s the first time since 2006 (Kent State and Temple) that the Golden Gophers face two brand new FBS opponents in the same regular season.
  • While the Golden Gophers have never faced the Eagles, P.J. Fleck knows them from his time as head coach at Western Michigan from 2013-16. While at WMU, Fleck was 3-1 against EMU, including wins in each of the last three matchups.
  • All-time against schools in the Mid-American Conference, the Golden Gophers are 33-5-1, including a 7-2 mark at Huntington Bank Stadium. Minnesota has won eight of its last nine against MAC schools dating back to 2011.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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