The bowl season is upon us, and the Minnesota Golden Gophers are making the trip to Detroit to face Georgia Tech in what will be Yellow Jackets’ coach Paul Johnson’s final game before he retires. With the game a little over a week away, we figured it was time to take stock of both squads and offer up some advice on which team you may want to pick if you are inclined to do such things.
Spread: Georgia Tech -6.5
The Golden Gophers are coming off their first win over Wisconsin in 15 years, a win that had the added bonus of making them eligible for this game. While P.J. Fleck’s “Row The Boat” mantra hasn’t fully taken hold just yet, Minnesota did improve by one game record-wise this year. They did so mostly thanks to their defense, which held opponents to just under 28 points per game but ranked in the top 50 of Defensive S&P+ this season (44th). The leading tackler of that defense, Blake Cashman, won’t play in this game, and that’s not great news when facing a triple-option attack like the one the Yellow Jackets bring to the table. Still, fellow linebacker Carter Coughlin (15 TFL, 9.5 sacks) will play, helping to take the sting out of Cashman’s decision to skip the bowl.
On offense, quarterbacks Zach Annexstad and Tanner Morgan weren’t particularly efficient throwers (54% combined), but they provided enough of a threat when combined with the running back duo of Mohamed Ibrahim and Bryce Williams (1,436 yards 11 TDs combined). The one place this team struggled on offense was finishing drives, ranking 110th in Bill Connelly’s points per scoring opportunity metric (4.08 points per).
The good news for the Gophers is Georgia Tech wasn’t good at stopping opponents from finishing drives either, as they ranked 125th in that metric defensively, giving up 5.48 points per scoring opportunity. Offensively, the Jackets were plenty successful, with four rushers getting over 100 carries, and all of them getting above 500 yards, on anywhere between 4.6 and 6.2 yards per carry. They can grind the clock down if you let them, but they will rarely break out for a big play (1.07 IsoPPP, 113th).
When it comes to the teams’ records against the spread this year, Minnesota has the edge there as well. The Gophers have been 4-3 as underdogs this year, while Georgia Tech went 4-5. Overall, Tech’s defense has had much bigger struggles than the Gophers offense, and I don’t think they’re a touchdown better. Minnesota +6.5; Under 59.5
Local Expert Take: David McCoy, WCCO-TV Sports Anchor
“I actually like the Gophers in this one. They feel like they are peaking at the right time of the year. They beat the [Wisconsin] Badgers for the first time in 15 years. They have won a bunch of games in the back half of their schedule to get bowl eligible. They are playing a pretty good Georgia Tech team that won six of their last eight games. And, of course, this is coach Paul Johnson’s final game before he retires. They run that wacky, throw-back, triple-option offense something different that the Gophers will have to contend with. But I like the Gophers here.”