The University of Minnesota has an unbelievable opportunity in front of a national audience Thursday night against the No. 2-ranked team in the country.
The Gophers host TCU on national television at TCF Bank Stadium, and a sell-out crowd will be in attendance to see what should be considered Minnesota’s biggest home game in school history. It’s at least the Gophers biggest home game since they hosted a USC squad led by O.J. Simpson in 1968. It’s most definitely the biggest game so far to be played at Minnesota’s new on-campus stadium.READ MORE: Minneapolis North H.S. Principal Will Now Finish School Year
The Gophers traveled to Fort Worth last year to face the Horned Frogs, and it didn’t go well. They left 30-7 losers and trailed 24-0 at the half. They were overmatched and didn’t have the skill or speed to play with TCU. The Horned Frogs’ only loss last year was to Baylor, and it prevented them from getting to the College Football Playoff.
Jerry Kill and Gary Patterson are good friends. It’s well chronicled that Kill was in Patterson’s wedding, but for three hours Thursday night they are enemies. The Gophers are double-digit underdogs, even on their home field. So what will it take to pull off what would be considered a huge upset, or to at least keep the game close enough for an upset to be in play? Here are the keys for the Gophers to get what would be Kill’s biggest win at Minnesota.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner Has To Play Well
Mitch Leidner had a tough game in Fort Worth last year with three interceptions that were part of a five turnover day for the Gophers offense. The junior quarterback must have a much better game and find some playmakers for Minnesota to have a chance at the upset. The Horned Frogs have a great run defense, so having a passing game will be critical for the Gophers.
Control The Ball, Create Turnovers
The Gophers defense proved last season it can create turnovers. But their best defense Thursday might be an offense that moves the ball, gets first downs and controls the clock. The longer TCU’s offense is standing on the sideline, the better off Minnesota is. But if the Gophers can create a few turnovers and give their offense a short field to work with, they have a great shot to win.
Defense Must Contain TCU’s Speed
The Horned Frogs have a majority of starters back from last year’s squad that beat the Gophers, led by Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Trevone Boykin. His speed at quarterback gave Minnesota all kinds of problems as he ran for 96 yards and threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns last year. The Gophers need to contain him, limit what the passing game can do and get off the field on third down.
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A Clear No. 1 Receiver Must Emerge
Last year, the Gophers’ top receiver was Maxx Williams, though he was a tight end. Minnesota needs a go-to guy to emerge at wide receiver for the passing game to be a legitimate threat this season and to keep TCU honest. The best candidates with experience are K.J. Maye and Drew Wolitarsky. The others that have a chance include Eric Carter, Melvin Holland and local talent Jeff Jones. It doesn’t matter who it is, but the Gophers need a couple receivers to stand out in the passing game.
Gophers Need To Establish The Run
David Cobb is gone, and the Gophers are looking for a new name to stand out running the football. The leading candidate is Rodrick Williams. Others that could be a factor include Berkley Edwards, Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. It may take a couple games for one running back to be the featured player, but it also never hurts to have more than one option in the backfield. The Gophers ran for more than 215 yards per game last season, and they’ll be looking to run for at least that per game this year. If they can’t run the ball consistently against TCU, it could be a long night for Minnesota.
Home Crowd Must Be A Factor
A sellout crowd is expected at TCF Bank Stadium and standing room only tickets will be sold, so the fans could have as much impact on the game as anything. Crowd noise can distract the opposing team’s offense, cause confusion and create penalties. But it’s also on the Gophers to give the fans a reason to be loud and excited. It should be an electric atmosphere and the longer the game is close, the better chance Minnesota has a chance to use crowd momentum to make a big play and spring a huge upset.
Expect To Win On Your Home Field
The expectation with Gopher football for far too long has been to hope for the best but expect the worst. That mentality appears to have changed with Kill and the players in the program. At some point, it’s time for fans to fully buy in. You should have the expectation to win on your home field every time you play, regardless of the opponent. TCU is full of speed, athleticism and talent, but as Kill has said, “We feel like we’re a pretty good team too.” The players are talking like they expect to succeed and win. Now it’s time for the fans to buy in as well. A lot more will do just that if the Gophers get the upset win.MORE NEWS: Buffalo Clinic Shooting: Opening Statements Begin Monday In Gregory Ulrich Trial
A win over TCU Thursday night would be without question the biggest in Kill’s tenure. It would also rival victories at Penn State and Ohio State in the Glen Mason era, when they were top five teams. If the Gophers are looking to get more fans on the bandwagon, the best way to do it is to beat the No. 2-ranked team in the nation on your home field in a packed house.