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Football: Minnesota Golden Gophers scouting report vs. Colorado

BOULDER, CO - September 18, 2021: University of Colorado Boulder's Brendon Lewis fumbles as Minnesota's Mariano Sori-Marin hits him during the Colorado Minnesota NCAA football game on September 18, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO – September 18, 2021: University of Colorado Boulder’s Brendon Lewis fumbles as Minnesota’s Mariano Sori-Marin hits him during the Colorado Minnesota NCAA football game on September 18, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Minnesota Golden Gophers scouting report

Head coach: PJ Fleck, 6th season (37-23; 67-45 career)

This season: 2-0

Last week: Defeated Western Illinois, 62-10, at home

5 Players to Watch

• WR Chris Autman-Bell, Sr.: The Gophers’ top receiving threat, he has team highs in catches (eight) and receiving yards (156) so far this season.

• RB Mohamed Ibrahim, Sr.: Returning from an Achilles’ injury in 2021, Ibrahim has 262 yards and four TDs in two games. Sixth in Minnesota history in rushing yards (3,265), he needs just 12 yards to break into the top five.

• QB Tanner Morgan, Sr.: A 41-game starter, he has thrown for 461 yards and a touchdown this season. He’s also had three rushing touchdowns, which is already a career high.

• DL Thomas Rush, Sr.: A leader up front, he has recorded five tackles and one sack this season. Has just eight career sacks, but two came against CU in the 2021 game in Boulder.

• LB Mariano Sori-Marin, Sr.: One of the better linebackers in the Big Ten, he’s recorded 10 tackles and a tackle for loss so far this season. He had 85 tackles a year ago and has 196 for his career.

Minnesota offense

Although the Gophers have a sixth-year senior and four-year starter at quarterback in Tanner Morgan, their offense is based on the run game and wearing down opponents. They haven’t scored in quick-strike fashion this year. Of their 16 scoring drives, seven have been 11 plays or more and 13 have been at least six plays. Last year, 70% of the plays were runs and so far this year, the ground game has been used 69.4% of the time. When they do throw, Morgan has been very efficient in his career, with a 152.5 career passer rating.

Minnesota defense

It’s difficult to judge the Gophers this season based on the opponents (New Mexico State, Western Illinois), but they do have quality players and experience across the board. Seven starters returned from a unit that ranked second in the Big Ten (and top eight nationally) in scoring and total defense a year ago. The Gophers also added five transfers. So far, they have been dominant, as defending national champion Georgia is the only team in the country that has allowed fewer points.

Minnesota special teams

The Gophers have experience in their kicking game. Matthew Trickett, a 2021 graduate transfer from Kent State, is 17-for-28 on field goals and 49-of-51 on extra points with Minnesota (Career: 67-of-85 field goals, 143-of-146 PAT). He struggled at CU last year, going 1-for-3 on field goals and missing an extra point. Australian Mark Crawford is in his third season as the Gophers’ punter. He averaged 41.7 yards per punt a year ago and has averaged 38.5 on his two punts this season.

How Minnesota can win

Play Minnesota football, which means controlling the clock with the run game and finishing drives in the end zone. The Gophers have been very efficient in that regard this year and have multiple running backs to get the job done against the Buffs. Defensively, the Gophers need to limit CU’s big plays and get the Buffs’ offense off the field quickly.

Golden Gophers notables

• Tanner Morgan has the most wins for a starting quarterback in Minnesota history, with a record of 29-12 in his 41 starts. He is second in program history in passing yards (8,533) and passing touchdowns (57).

• Sixth-year senior Chris Autman-Bell has caught at least one pass in the last 40 games he has played. That is the longest streak in the country, according to Minnesota’s research.

• Minnesota has a plus-90 scoring margin (100-10) through two games. That’s the best margin for the program since 1905, when the team outscored its first two opponents 128-0.

• Since Fleck arrived at Minnesota before the 2017 season, the Gophers are 16-1 in non-conference play, a .941 winning percentage. That’s the fourth-best in the country during that span, behind Alabama (24-1, .960), Georgia (22-1, .957) and Oklahoma State (19-1, .950).

• Minnesota has 23 players in at least their fifth season of college football. The Gophers have 15 players in their fifth season, seven in their sixth year and one in a seventh year.