NCAA Friday Night Football: Minnesota/Maryland Preview

by Alec McMordie

The Friday night game on ESPN features a battle of two Big Ten opponents looking to rebound from opening game losses last week.

Minnesota hosted Michigan for the Saturday night prime-time game on ABC but got dominated in a 49-24 loss. The Golden Gophers’ defense only returned five starters from last year while losing five of their top six tacklers from that team. Minnesota was tenth in the nation by allowing 306.6 yards-per-game, yet allowed the Wolverines to generate 478 yards of offense while averaging 8.8 yards-per-play behind Joe Milton's first career start at quarterback. The Golden Gophers allowed 35 points in the first half to the Wolverines.

Minnesota only gained 326 yards on offense despite being on the field for over 35 minutes in that game. Junior quarterback Tanner Morgan completed just 18 of 31 passes for 197 yards with a touchdown and an interception. After ranking fourth in the nation last season by averaging 10.2 yards per pass attempt, Morgan averaged only 6.6 yards per attempt against the Wolverines. Junior Rashod Bateman remains a dangerous weapon for Morgan, but he needs help in replacing their lead receiver Tyler Johnson from last year.

The Minnesota offensive line was supposed to be a strength for this team, with four starters returning. It was a surprise when right guard Curtis Dunlap and right tackle Daniel Faalele could not play because of injuries. Head coach P.J. Fleck reshuffled his line while inserting two backups into the starting lineup. Yet Morgan still got sacked five times. If there was a bright spot for the Golden Gophers, it was the play of junior running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who rushed for 140 yards with two touchdowns against the stout Wolverines’ defense.

With Dunlap and Faalele listed as questionable for this game, Minnesota will likely lean on Ibrahim to carry the offense. The Golden Gophers are also dealing with injuries with the kicker and punter, which impacted Fleck’s fourth-down decisions last week.

Maryland was embarrassed last week in Evanston, where they lost to Northwestern by a 43-3 score. They surrendered 537 yards to a Wildcats’ offense was 123rd in the nation last year. Northwestern ran the ball 53 times for 325 yards against the Terrapins. Maryland has five starters on defense back that was 109th by allowing 449.2 yards-per-game with 177.9 of those yards coming on the ground.

The Terrapins gained only 207 yards in that game while being on the field for under 23 minutes. They averaged only 4.1 yards-per-play. Second-year head coach Mike Locksley tapped sophomore Taulia Tagovailoa as his starting quarterback. The younger brother of Tua transferred to College Park from Alabama, where Locksley was the offensive coordinator two years ago. Tagovailoa’s career with Maryland did not start as planned, with him passing for 94 yards while completing 14 of his 25 passes. He also threw three interceptions. The Terrapins were last in the Big Ten last year in time of possession, so keeping their defense off the field may continue to be a problem for Locksley’s team.

Maryland was only 3-9 last season, but they have bowl aspirations in Locksley’s second year with the program with twelve starters back. The Terrapins lost all three of their games decided by one scoring possession while losing 36 starts from the first-string to injuries last season. Minnesota has 13 starters back from Fleck’s 11-2 team defeated Auburn in the Outback Bowl by a 31-24 score.

BetOnline lists the Golden Gophers as a 19.5-point road favorite with the total set at 61. The ESPN broadcast begins at 7:30 PM ET. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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