Minnesota Golden Gophers at Fresno State Bulldogs Preview, Prediction

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Not sure what exactly the Minnesota Golden Gophers showed us last week, at home versus the FCS South Dakota State Jackrabbits, but whatever that was it certainly wasn’t good.

The Gophers were very fortunate to escape with a victory, and if they play at that level again this Saturday, on the road at Fresno State, the result will not be pretty.  Let’s run through this game’s FYIs. 

Minnesota won 21-14 at home last year, the only previous meeting. If you’re going to be betting, like you would if you play poker online, be aware of the spread in this game. The Golden Gophers are favored by 3, with the over/under set at 46. CBS Sports Network will carry the game with Rich Waltz doing play by play, Aaron Murray doing analysis and John Schriffen reporting. Kickoff is 9:30 PM CT.

If you read this site’s Minnesota season preview, you know that I feel Goldy could be the Big Ten West sleeper this season.

I even doubled down on that while doing a guest segment on CLTV Sports Feed with Jarrett Payton. Had Minnesota completely blown the game, and taken an L, well then I might have ended up on Freezing Cold takes. 

Minnesota Season Preview: go to this link

Fresno State Bulldogs Preview:

Fresno only lost twice last season, to Minnesota and Boise State in the regular season. The Bulldogs then went on to avenge that Boise loss in the conference title game. It didn’t take long for Jeff Tedford to ascend this program to the top of the Mountain West.

They’re favorites to win their division and likely meet Boise in the MWC conference championship game for the third season in a row. However, they only return two starters on offense and just four on defense. And although they get kept it close at USC in the opener, their run defense left a lot to be desired.

They gave up 175 yards, but more critically about five yards per rush, with the Trojans being especially effective on first and second down running the football.

Tedford knows, from the meeting last season, how Minnesota will try to grind them in a power running approach.

“We have our hands full trying to stop the run,” he said yesterday at his weekly news conference, “and trying to get them in long-yardage situation because that’s what they did really well against us last year.”

FSU was third in the nation in scoring defense last year, and given how they return some of the top talent from that unit, they should ultimately prove to be more difficult to score upon than they were in week one at Southern California.

Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview:

Minnesota’s offensive line, when you go from left tackle to right, goes 325, 325, 305, 345 and 400 pounds. The U. returns a trio of rushers that have run up 5,000 yards and 50 TDs over the course of their careers.

So it’s not secret what they want to do and how they want to do it. However, the Gophers didn’t accomplish that in week one, as they averaged just 3.1 yards per carry against SDSU.

“They came in here, this was their huge game that they have been waiting three years, four years now, to play another Power Five team,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said of the opener yesterday.

“Run game we have to be more consistent and we have to continue to be more physical.”

“I think too many guys are trying to do too much instead of just their job on both sides of the ball, but you have to give them a lot of credit for having the right game plan and type of game plan they had; that every time we would adjust to one thing, there would be another thing that was maybe a little bit different.”

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P.J. Fleck Notable Quotable:

On one of the most shopworn of all football cliches, the “a team improves the most from week one to week two.”

(which if it were true wouldn’t mean much anyway as your opponent is also improving)

“I’ve always believed that it doesn’t matter if it’s one to two, two to three, three to four, five to — four to five, five to six. To me, you’ve got to grow every week. You’re an ever-evolving team, from game one all the way through whatever your last game is and each week you’ve got to get better. You’ve always got to get better at certain things.”

“…I’d like to see an improvement from week one to week two in a lot of different areas. Every coach in America wants to. But to say your best comes between that, I don’t know if I necessarily believe that. I have seen incredible growth from seven to eight, eleven to twelve, last year would be an example for the second half of the season.”

Prediction: Golden Gophers 21, Bulldogs 20

It’s actually not too surprising that the Gophers seem to be coming out of the gate slow. Last year’s team rebounded by from a disastrous 1-5 league start to become the first Minnesota team to beat Wisconsin since 2003, win at Madison since 1994 and the only Golden Gophers team in history to win a season finale and a bowl game in the same term.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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