Buffaloes scouting report
Head coach: Karl Dorrell, 2nd season (5-3; 40-30 career)
2021 Record: 1-1
Last week: Lost to Texas A&M, 10-7, in Denver
5 Players to Watch
- PK Cole Becker, Fr.: There were reports that he was nearly perfect on field goals during camp, but he’s 0-for-2 to start his career. He will need to start coming through when his name is called again.
- RB Jarek Broussard, So.: CU’s best running back limped off the field midway through the third quarter last week and didn’t return. Coach Karl Dorrell said Broussard is fine – and the Buffs could use a big game from him.
- QB Brendon Lewis, Fr.: At some point, he’s going to bust loose as a passer. Is this the week?
- DL Na’im Rodman, So.: He has become a key part of the defensive line and he’s been very good at times against the run.
- OLB Guy Thomas, Jr.: Had his best game as a Buff last week and he will look to build upon that. Thomas seemingly spent half of his time in the Texas A&M backfield last week.
CU offense: It’s been a slow start to the season for the Buffs, who are looking to rebound after posting just seven points a week ago. The strength of the offense is the run game, led by Jarek Broussard, Alex Fontenot and quarterback Brendon Lewis. They currently rank 30th nationally with 226.0 rushing yards per game. The Buffs need Lewis to get his arm going, though. That starts with protecting him up front. “You can’t have guys in his face right away and he needs to be able to look downfield,” tight end Brady Russell said. “He needs to be able to feel safe, he needs to feel protected by the people up front so he can keep his eyes down there and he can make throws and receivers can make plays and tight ends can make plays and backs can make plays.”
CU defense: Two games in, the Buffs couldn’t ask for much better from this side of the ball. They’ve been exceptional to this point, while mixing things up and making life difficult for the opposition. CU currently ranks fifth nationally in scoring defense (8.5 points per game), 13th in rushing (58.5 yards per game) and 23rd in opponent completion percentage (52.4). “What we try to do more than anything is give them the best information we can and then talk about how we’re going to attack it and execute it,” defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “And that’s where we spend probably 90% of our time. I’m excited that they’re buying in and then working their butt off on a day to day basis.”
CU special teams: Punter Josh Watts had the best game of his brief, eight-game career last week and continues to develop as a weapon for the Buffs. Freshman kicker Cole Becker has exceptional ability and is 6-for-6 on extra points, but he’s missed both field goal attempts. Although CU would love to score touchdowns instead of field goals, it would also like to give Becker some confidence by making a couple of field goals at some point soon. “This whole team has a lot of confidence in this kid because 55 yards is really not hard for this kid,” Dorrell said. “He has a tremendous leg.”
CU keys to victory
Stop the run: Minnesota has the ability to wear down the Buffs – and any other team – with its power run game. The Buffs have been stout up front so far this season and that will need to continue against the Gophers.
Throwing success: We know the Buffs can run the ball, but can they move the ball consistently through the air? Quarterback Brendon Lewis has the ability, but needs to connect with his receivers and get some rhythm going.
Build on A&M: Despite a disappointing 10-7 loss to Texas A&M last week, CU came away feeling confident after going toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s best teams. That won’t mean much if they stumble this week, so the Buffs have to find a way to build upon the confidence gained last week by getting a key victory this week.
- CU has held both opponents under 300 yards of offense: 256 for Northern Colorado, 288 for Texas A&M. Only once, in 1976, has CU started a season by holding three consecutive opponents under 300 yards.
- So far this season, CU’s offense has had 24 third down plays. On 14 of those, the Buffs needed at least seven yards for a first down. They are 7-for-10 when facing third-and-6 or loss, and 3-for-14 when facing third-and-7 or more. “The efficiency (on first and second down) has to be better,” Dorrell said. “We’re working on all sorts of things, whether it’s running the ball with more efficiency, or the throwing game being more efficient.”
- The Buffs have held their opponents to 0.74 points per possession (17 points in 23 possessions). Nearly half (11) of those have been three-and-out, while 14 possessions have ended in punts.
- Last week, linebacker Nate Landman had the 19th game of his career with 10-plaus tackles, tied the sixth-most in CU history. Barry Remington holds the record, with 26.
- Cornerback Christian Gonzalez, offensive lineman Kary Kutsch, tight end Matt Lynch and outside linebacker Carson Wells were named captains for this game.
Golden Gophers scouting report
Head coach: P.J. Fleck, 5th season (27-20; 57-42 career)
2021 Record: 1-1
Last week: Beat Miami (Ohio), 31-26, at home
5 Players to Watch
- WR Chris Autman-Bell, Sr.: A leg injury has kept him out this season, but he could return this week. He was the Gophers’ top returning receiver, catching 22 passes for 430 yards and a touchdown in 2020.
- CB Coney Durr, Sr.: The most experienced player on the defense, he has started 32 of his 44 career games. Minnesota’s top cover corner, he has five tackles this season.
- QB Tanner Morgan, Sr.: A third-year starter, he has a 19-9 career record and is among the top quarterbacks in school history, ranking fourth in career touchdown passes (49) and sixth in passing yards (6,345).
- RB Treyson Potts, So.: Last week, he took over the starting role after the Gophers lost star Mohamed Ibrahim to injury. He gained 178 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries against Miami of Ohio.
- LB Mariano Sori-Marin, Sr.: Among the better linebackers in the Big Ten, he leads the Gophers with 16 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss.
Minnesota offense: It all starts with the run game, even with Ibrahim out for the year. The Gophers will often use six or seven offensive linemen t power their way down the field. “Number one challenge is handling the run game,” CU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “A big, strong physical front that likes to lean on you, likes to move the ball and then they set their RPOs and their play-action game off there. They do it out of a lot of window dressing, but a very, very good team.” The Gophers also have a good quarterback in Morgan and solid receivers.
Minnesota defense: Ten starters, including the top nine tacklers from 2020, returned, but it’s been a unit that has struggled. The Gophers gave up 30.1 points (70th nationally) and 415.9 yards (72nd) per game last year, and those numbers are up this year to 35.5 and 418.0. Against the run, the Gophers rank 118th in the country in rushing yards per carry (5.45) and 118th in pass efficiency defense (168.69 opponent quarterback rating). They’ve also given up a lot of big plays, including seven of at least 30 yards so far this year.
Minnesota special teams: In the offseason, the Gophers added kicker Matthew Trickett as a transfer from Kent State. The MAC special teams player of the year in 2019, he is 2-for-2 so far this year, including a career-best 50-yarder. Mark Crawford has been solid so far at punter. He’s averaging 38.4 yards per kick and four of his eight punts have pinned the opponent inside the 20-yard line.
Minnesota keys to victory
Control the run game: Minnesota is at its best when the run game is going and it has talented running backs, led by Treyson Potts, to rack up a lot of yards. Defensively, Minnesota needs to find a way to slow down CU’s rushing attack.
Keep pressure on Lewis: Minnesota knows that CU quarterback Brendon Lewis is off to a slow start in the passing game, and it will hope to make him uncomfortable. Lewis has been sacked just three times, but nine of his 40 passes have been “hurried throws.”
Take advantage of mistakes: This year, the Gophers have forced three turnovers and they’ve scored after each one (17 points). Forcing mistakes and capitalizing on them could be the difference.
Golden Gophers notables
- Minnesota is 2-1 all-time in the state of Colorado, with both wins at Colorado State (2004, 2015) and the loss at CU in 1991.
- The Golden Gophers have the most experienced offensive line in the country, with a combined 193 career starts. The line is also one of the biggest in the country.
- This will be the 100th game in the head coaching career of PJ Fleck. Prior to coming to Minnesota in 2017, he was the head coach at Western Michigan for four years, from 2013-16.
- Minnesota has the nation’s longest non-conference winning streak, at 20 games. The Gophers’ last non-conference loss came in the 2015 season opener against TCU. Only three of those 20 wins came on the road – at Colorado State (2015), at Oregon State (2017) and at Fresno State (2019).
- Quarterback Tanner Morgan ranks first in Minnesota history in career completion percentage (.614) and pass efficiency rating (156.21).