MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota is three games into its 2021 season, and they’re about where most observers thought they would be.
The Gophers are 2-1 after three games, with a loss to Ohio State and wins over Miami (Ohio) and at Colorado. They finish the non-conference season at 11 a.m. Saturday against Bowling Green, homecoming at Huntington Bank Stadium. Minnesota can extend its non-conference win streak to 22 games, the longest active streak in the nation, with a win. The Gophers are 31-point favorites.
Here are nine observations, three games into the season
GOPHERS FANS FILLING STADIUMS FIRST 3 GAMES
One of the most impressive things through three games is the Gophers’ fan turnout. It’s easy to sellout a stadium against Ohio State, but there were 43,000 strong and nearly a full student section for Miami (Ohio) out of the MAC. The talk after beating Colorado was the 7-10,000 fans that flocked to Boulder. At least three sections full, and they were the only fans left when it was over. PJ Fleck turned his boss, AD Mark Coyle, when it was over to see the see of maroon and gold and celebrate.
When you win and do it consistently, the fans will come.
PJ FLECK COMMITTED TO RUN GAME
The Gophers are going to run the ball under PJ Fleck, that’s no secret. Mo Ibrahim had 30 carries against the Buckeyes before getting hurt. Trey Potts got 34 carries against the Redhawks, and Potts, Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas combined for 48 of the 53 rushing attempts at Colorado, and the Gophers averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Minnesota has one of the biggest and most experienced offensive lines in the country, and the Gophers are going to run behind it until somebody stops them.
KO KIEFT STANDING OUT AS BLOCKING TIGHT END
One of the biggest reasons Fleck loves to run the ball is tight end Ko Kieft. Listed at tight end, he’s really an extra offensive lineman, and there’s nothing he loves more than putting a defender on his back. He does have one catch through three games, but he knows his role. It’s to play physical, and be a force when Minnesota goes into a jumbo package. He single-handedly created a hole for Trey Potts on one of his three scores at Colorado.
BOYE MAFE, THOMAS RUSH MAKE SPLASH AT COLORADO
There was concern about the Minnesota defense after two games, because there were no sacks registered. There’s a reason for that: C.J. Stroud is a mobile quarterback for Ohio State who is hard to bring down, and Miami’s Brett Gabbert got the ball out within a few seconds, making sacks not much of an option. That all changed Saturday, as the Gophers stayed disciplined in their rush lanes and as a result, Brendon Lewis had nowhere to hide most of the day. Boye Mafe and Thomas Rush each got to him twice in the best defensive performance of the season so far.
GOPHERS HAVE SPECIAL TRIO AT WIDE RECEIVER
Chris Autman-Bell made his 2021 debut Saturday after missing the first two games with a leg injury suffered during fall camp. Autman-Bell made four catches for 79 yards, including a 33-yard grab that set up a Trey Potts touchdown. It was our first glimpse at Minnesota’s wide receiver trio with Dylan Wright, and Daniel Jackson. Wright has nine catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Jackson has 11 catches for 127 yards, and got his first career touchdown against Miami.
It's not at the caliber of Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, but those three give Tanner Morgan plenty of options to get the ball down field.
DON'T TAKE THE FOOT OFF THE GAS AGAINST BOWLING GREEN
Minnesota is a 31-point favorite against Bowling Green, and nobody who has ever followed Gophers football is comfortable with a spread like that. Go back to 2019, and the Gophers needed rallies to beat South Dakota State and Georgia Southern, and overtime to beat Fresno State.
Saturday is not the time to take the foot off the gas. Score points in bunches, and play shut down defense. It’s OK to win a game 51-10.
COULD GOPHERS BE 8-1 HEADING TO IOWA?
Assuming the Gophers take care of Bowling Green, it sets up interesting possibilities going back into Big Ten play. Minnesota has a five-game stretch that includes going to Purdue, hosting Nebraska and Maryland, going to Northwestern and hosting Illinois before a Nov. 13 date at Iowa. There’s no reason the Gophers can’t be 8-1 heading to Iowa City. Purdue lost to Notre Dame and has a few injuries at key positions, Nebraska has struggled under Scott Frost, Illinois is currently 1-3 and under Brett Bielema and Northwestern is 1-2.
Iowa is currently top-five in the country. How fun would that game in Iowa City be if both teams are in contention for the Big Ten West?
PJ FLECK, USC RUMORS CAN BE GOOD FOR GOPHERS
Minnesota fans were sent in a tizzy last week, after USC coach Clay Helton was fired and PJ Fleck was listed by national writers as a possible replacement. Fleck gets linked to openings virtually every year, it’s nothing new. Fleck has done nothing but pledge his love and commitment to the Minnesota program, and he wants to build a national brand here. It’s good to be wanted, and a coach hasn’t left the Gophers for another job since Lou Holtz.
GOPHERS WILL RELY ON KICKER MATTHEW TRICKETT
Matthew Trickett came to the Gophers as a transfer from Kent State, and one of the better kickers in the country. He made a 46-yard field goal against Ohio State, and a 50-yarder against Miami that help put the game away. Trickett struggled against Colorado, missing two field goals and an extra point, before bouncing back with a made kick late in the game. He’s been one the more reliable kickers in recent memory, let’s hope it stays that way.
It’s Homecoming week, and the Gophers are 2-1 and heavy favorites. Enjoy the game.