How will the Gophers attack South Dakota State?

DanielHouse

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When the Gophers take the field for their season opener next week, they will be tested by one of the FCS' top teams. The FCS coaches poll was announced last week and South Dakota State ranked No. 4. They have a large stable of returning talent, particularly at the skill spots. However, following the gradation of veteran Taryn Christion, the Jackrabbits have big shoes to fill at quarterback. The team will also have new coordinators on each side of the ball, which could impact the team's overall philosophy.

South Dakota State announced last week that redshirt freshman J’Bore Gibbs will be its starting quarterback. Gibbs, a dual-threat quarterback from Chicago, will be stepping onto the field for his first official college game on Thursday. His high school film shows a quarterback with scrambling ability, so Minnesota will need to contain on the edge and stay in lanes to prevent unnecessary big plays. Nobody has much film on Gibbs, but we know he’ll have plenty of weapons to throw the ball to.

Junior Cade Johnson is a versatile weapon, who can line up in the slot or outside. In 2018, Johnson grabbed 67 receptions for 1,322 yards and set the school’s single-season record with 17 touchdowns. His quick feet, releases and versatility are a tough matchup for opposing cornerbacks, especially when South Dakota State flexes a tight end or lines up a physical wide receiver alongside him. Wide receiver Adam Anderson has become a complementary option and has the physicality to stretch defenses up the seam. South Dakota State has its top two receivers returning, which should help a young quarterback adjust.

Not to mention, the Jackrabbits’ offense features three running backs with different skill sets. Pierre Strong Jr. is an elusive back with excellent vision. Strong rushed for 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns, including numerous explosive runs. Among his 11 touchdown runs, he averaged 44.4 yards per score. He is complemented by Mikey Daniel, a physical runner, who picks up yards after contact. The coaches also utilized sophomore C.J. Wilson in the receiving game and as a change of pace back. South Dakota State has plenty of playmakers, but the team’s biggest question mark is in the trenches.

One of the main areas where the Gophers hold an advantage is up front. Minnesota has developed a strong and diverse rotation on the defensive line. In fact, it may be the position group that has taken the biggest step forward this offseason. Esezi Otomewo and Boye Mafe are two rotational pass rushers the coaches can deploy in certain situations. Tai’yon Devers has also progressed and may earn increased snaps this year. With the combination of these players, and veterans like Carter Coughlin and Micah Dew Treadway, the Gophers’ defensive line could be a quiet x-factor in 2019.

Last year, the Jackrabbits’ offensive line paved the way for nearly 3,000 rushing yards and allowed the ninth-fewest sacks in the FCS. However, left guard Tiano Pupungatoa and right tackle Tyler Weir both graduated and will need to be replaced. This year, left tackle Evan Greeneway is the only returning full-time starting offensive lineman. Guards Eddie Miller and Eagan Lickiss both started at least six games, but don’t have an extensive amount of in-game experience. Early in the season, the entire South Dakota State offensive line will be developing. The unit has been a strength in the past, but it will likely take time to see results in 2019. On Thursday, we can expect to see a glimpse of the Gophers’ defensive scheme, which may feature a variety of different packages, fronts and looks.

Defensively, the Jackrabbits’ entire front-seven is returning. When watching their games in 2018, I was drawn to a pair of players. The first was cornerback Jordan Brown, a seventh-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. After zoning in on Brown, I was distracted by the performance of linebacker Christian Rozeboom. As the team’s middle linebacker, the four-year starter ranks fourth on South Dakota State’s all-time tackling list. He is a physical and quick downhill run defender with range to make plays in coverage. Rozeboom is the heartbeat of South Dakota State’s entire defense. The Jackrabbits have excellent depth and talent at linebacker, including the length and blitzing skills of junior Logan Backhaus.

Despite having linebacker depth, there are two areas I think Minnesota will exploit against the Jackrabbits. In 2018, South Dakota ranked 78th among 124 FCS programs in rush defense. They surrendered 4.76 yards per carry and 188 yards per game. Their front-four struggled the most with physical offensive line units. It was specifically noticeable in the FCS semifinal and Sept. regular season matchups against North Dakota State. In the semifinal, the Jackrabbits allowed a whopping 439 rushing yards and surrendered five runs of more than 28 yards. Top defensive tackle Krockett Krolikowski’s absence certainly played a role, but even when he was healthy, they struggled to get consistent push.

Every starting defensive lineman is returning for South Dakota State this year. They don’t have a single key interior defensive lineman that weighs more than 285 pounds. Minnesota’s offensive line is extremely physical and I expect the scheme to center around running the football.

They can also use play-action to push the ball downfield against this defense. The Jackrabbits’ secondary is filled with inexperience. Starting safeties Brandon Snyder and Makiah Slade both graduated and top cornerback Jordan Brown was drafted by the Bengals. Cornerback Marshon Harris is the only returning starter in the secondary and it’s unclear who will start opposite of him. There’s a real scenario where at least one redshirt freshman is playing a key role in the secondary.

When factoring in the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, Minnesota can attack South Dakota State in a few different ways. The primary focus will likely be on the ground as Minnesota takes advantage of physical differences. As the game progresses, the Gophers can use a variety of different route concepts (high-low crossers, smash-divide, dagger etc.) to exploit the Jackrabbits’ young secondary. On defense, Minnesota will need to stop the run and keep South Dakota State’s rushing attack from controlling the game. Defensively, they can draw up stunts/twists and various packages to create pressure. However, disciplined pursuit and contain is key to prevent quarterback J’Bore Gibbs from extending plays.
 

bleedsmaroonandgold

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Any way we want to. They cant stop our triple-headed rushing attack, or our triple-headed receiving threat. Whatever we do, I think we will move the ball pretty easily.
 

Section2

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Every starting defensive lineman is returning for South Dakota State this year. They don’t have a single key interior defensive lineman that weighs more than 285 pounds. Minnesota’s offensive line is extremely physical and I expect the scheme to center around running the football.
I've heard this in every single non power 5 team the gophers have ever played and it just does not matter. Either your OL is good or it isn't. Weight differential has never ever mattered ever. I wish this cliche would die a horrible death.
 

salzie

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I've heard this in every single non power 5 team the gophers have ever played and it just does not matter. Either your OL is good or it isn't. Weight differential has never ever mattered ever. I wish this cliche would die a horrible death.

True, but if you're good AND big, it is tough for the other team to hold their ground and they eventually get worn down
 

Livingat45north

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Thanks for the write up House. Inexperience on their OL is something we'll exploit.
 

salzie

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Anything less than a 3 score win will be a disappointment
 

btowngopher

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Everyone is saying Gibbs is a dual threat, but he didn’t look like that big of threat with his legs on the film I saw. Yes he can scramble a bit and escape the pocket, but he doesn’t look all that fast that we need to keep a spy on him. He seemed very much a pass first guy.
 

RodentRampage

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Heavy Metal style.
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Governor Sibley

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As long as there are no injuries, I don't care all that much about how we win this game.
 

PitinoFan

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Surprised we don’t have a “predict the score” thread yet.

Anyway, I don’t believe in playing it safe against any opponent, by limiting the playbook. I wonder how many other teams who’ve lost games to FCS opponents made that mistake? They can take their foot off the gas once they have at least a 3 TD lead in the 4th quarter.


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LesBolstad

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We'll give up about 20 pts.; but rush for 400 yards and score 36 minimum.
 

fmlizard

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I would hope just calling the plays and executing is enough to have it in the bag by the 2nd half. If the Gophs need to pull out all the stops in this one we're probably in a bad place for 2019.
 

RememberMurray

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Pound the rock. I don't think SDSU's offense will be on the field enough to score 20.
Yes. If we rush for 400 yards as Les predicts, well... pretty doubtful the Jacks would score 20 point in that scenario.

Ground and pound and wear them down. And not just for this game; that should be the plan this entire season. We need to impose our will.
 

Spoofin

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I've heard this in every single non power 5 team the gophers have ever played and it just does not matter. Either your OL is good or it isn't. Weight differential has never ever mattered ever. I wish this cliche would die a horrible death.
Right. That is why there are lots of 150 lb lineman.


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Jeshurun

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Right. That is why there are lots of 150 lb lineman.


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And also why there are no weight classes in boxing, wrestling, mma, lifting, etc.
 

Oregon Gopher

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Thanks for the write up House. Inexperience on their OL is something we'll exploit.
I love DH’s work- but it did crack me up that he lauded the options and versatility we have with our DL and insinuated we could take advantage of their OL as they are inexperienced. However their OL has one full time starter and two guys who started at least half the season. None of our DTs started or played a meaningful number of snaps last year outside of Renner. Furthermore, outside of CC, none of the other DEs has shown anything consistently in games. There’s lots of reports about Devers and Mafe looking great in camp but I’ll hold off pronouncements of grandeur until we see it in games.


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Gophers_4life

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I expect a lot of basic plays. Let our guys pin their ears back and just go out and play. We'll only "fancy it up" if things don't go to plan.
 

GFBfan

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I expect a lot of basic plays. Let our guys pin their ears back and just go out and play. We'll only "fancy it up" if things don't go to plan.
How is it possible to fancy things up in the middle of a game when their game plan and play sheet has already been put in place?
You tried to sound oh so smart in the guess the first play thread that you couldn’t possibly guess because of the play sheet and then come here and say this BS



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Oregon Gopher

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How is it possible to fancy things up in the middle of a game when their game plan and play sheet has already been put in place?
You tried to sound oh so smart in the guess the first play thread that you couldn’t possibly guess because of the play sheet and then come here and say this BS



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Consider the source and ignore- hate to say I agree with Highwayman on anything but he was spot on in regards to this imbecile.


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Gophers_4life

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How is it possible to fancy things up in the middle of a game
You’re really asking this question?? The play call sheet has probably 50 plays on it at least. They don’t call them all in a row.

I get it. You’re trying to be a toolbag. You’re just not any good at it.
 

PitinoFan

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It amazes me that anyone thinks PJ would take any team lightly. He’s a nervous guy, by nature. He’s going to try to light SDSU up.


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