This summer, I wanted to review some of the top out-of-conference games in the Pac-12 and what they mean for the involved teams. I am not looking at necessarily the biggest opponent games, but more the ones that will could show what a team’s trajectory might be.
Oregon State (2-10 in 2015):
at Minnesota Golden Gophers
TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
Thursday, Sep. 1
Opponent at a Glance:
Big-10 (Western Division)
6-7 in 2015 (5th place in the Big-10 West)
Like Oregon State, Minnesota is trying to revamp their offense, after bringing in some new coaches and a new philosophy. Minnesota has long been of the same mold as fellow Big-10 West foe Wisconsin. Power running behind a violent line was the hallmark of Minnesota football for years. That could return this year as Minnesota has some very good running backs and a very big offensive line.
Most importantly, they will be returning two-year starter, quarterback Mitch Leidner (242-407, 59.5%, 2,701yards passing, 14 TD, 11I NT along with six rushing TDs on 270 yards.) Leidner was injured last year and sat out this spring, but should be ready to go in the fall. Along with running backs Rodney Smith (670 yards, 4.3 ypc average, 2 TDs) and Shannon Brooks (760 yards, 6.0 ypc average, 7TDs) Minnesota is going to be a handful at the line of scrimmage.
Passing is not their strength, so look for the Golden Gophers to try and run behind a line that includes multi-year starter Jonah Pirsig at center, while true sophomore Tyler Moore and JC transfer Vincent Calhoun should be a handful for much of the Big-10.
While their defense returns six starters, only one is in the secondary. Minnesota has some meat up front, but they are very inexperienced in the defensive backfield and have a lot of questions going into this season. As a defense that gave up a relatively stingy 345 yards per game and 25 points last year, they are looking to rebuild a bit on that side of the ball. The Gophers run a 4-3 defense that is very similar to Utah’s, with aggressive ends and blitzing linebackers. With the changes in the secondary, that can slow down a lot of the attack. Getting Minnesota the first game will hopefully allow for the Beavers to attack their secondary with our talented group of receivers.
What this game means for the rest of the season?
It’s is no secret that 2-10 did not sit well with our coaches or players. This spring there was a lot of emphasis on getting better, faster, and stronger. Changes to the offensive and defensive staff were aimed at preventing the breakdowns that happened last year. While we have a lot of new faces on defense, I believe they were brought in to fix very specific problems.
If the offense can come out and move the ball well, get some points, and establish their identity early, and our defense can keep Minnesota from running the ball, the Beavers have a chance to leave TCF Bank Stadium with a win. I know they expect to.
A win against a Power 5, Big-10 opponent will go a long way to building the confidence of this team and give them plenty of ammunition on the recruiting trail. OSU still has a lot of needs, but a strong showing in Minneapolis will go a long way for showing the Beavers are making that next step.