Fresno State vs. Minnesota: Get to Know the Golden Gophers
Before Saturday’s game between the Fresno State Bulldogs and the Minnesota Gophers, we talk with Andy Greder of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press.
Greder gives us some insight on the Bulldogs’ next opponent.
The Fresno State Bulldogs will face their first big non-conference test of 2018 by squaring off with the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday. P.J. Fleck’s young team easily dispatched New Mexico State in Week 1, but Las Vegas odds-makers have suggested that this game should be one of the most evenly matched within the Mountain West’s weekend slate.
To get a better sense of what to expect from the Gophers, we reached out to Andy Greder of TwinCities.com, or the Pioneer-Press, who took some time to answer some of our pressing questions about Saturday’s game.
Matthew Kenerly: It’s interesting to look at quarterback Zach Annexstad’s final line from the win over New Mexico State (16-of-33, 220 yards, two TDs) because he looked a lot sharper overall in the first half, going just 5-of-13 in the third quarter. Was there a noticeable change that Annexstad will need to address, or is the position in good hands?
Andy Greder: For a true freshmen, the Gophers were pleased with the poise he showed in his debut, especially after his fumble helped the Aggies tie the game in the first quarter. His completion percentage (48%) and his lack of any completions longer than 15 yards will be a focal point going forward.
MK: Another thing that stood out was how the defense made NMSU one-dimensional by shutting down the running game, but I’ve also seen some reactions that suggest the Gophers’ pass rush could improve despite four sacks on 60-plus dropbacks. As Fresno State will strive to be more balanced — the Aggies have thrown more than anyone through two games — and simply has a better offensive line, who do you think will need to have a big game to satisfy both demands?
AG: Four sacks is an amount the Gophers can be satisfied with, but they could have had more against New Mexico State. The defense struggled against the run last year (74th in the nation), especially when it came to fits, so shutting down the Aggies with only 38 rushing yards was a good first step. This week will be a much stiffer test.
MK: Minnesota had a significant number of freshmen make an impact in the opener. Which performance(s) excited Gopher fans the most, and why? Which was the most important from your point of view?
AG: The Gophers had 27 freshmen play in their first collegiate games last week. Annexstad had the most attention, while receiver Rashod Bateman, a four-star recruit who turned down Georgia, lived up to the hype with five receptions for 52 yards. Cornerback Terell Smith also impressed with team highs in tackles (eight) and pass breakups (three).
MK: Many Fresno State fans were already familiar with running back Rodney Smith, but it appears significant that Minnesota had two 100-yard runners last Saturday in Smith and Mohamed Ibrahim. Ibrahim got hurt on his last run, however, so can you offer an update on his status?
AG: Smith and Ibrahim are both dinged up after the season opener. Head coach P.J. Fleck doesn’t share much on injuries, so this will be a key thing to look for during pregame warmups. I would expect Smith to play, but Ibrahim is more uncertain.
MK: Where do you think Fresno State will have the biggest overall advantage on Minnesota? Conversely, where will Minnesota have its biggest advantage on Fresno State?
AG: I see Fresno State with the upper hand with a more-experienced quarterback and the Gophers having a slight edge in workhorse running back Rodney Smith.
MK: Lastly, how do you see this game unfolding? Do you have a prediction for the outcome?
AG: I see this game as pretty even, hence a betting line within a field goal. Fresno State is more established than the Gophers, which has upgraded talent in Fleck’s second season but is so youthful. I think the Bulldogs start to garner national attention with a 24-21 win.