MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota is back from an earlier-than-usual bye week, aiming to keep the passing attack on a productive track.
After feasting on FCS foe Indiana State, Mitch Leidner and the Gophers had extra rest for their final nonconference game against Colorado State. Under new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, with a fully healthy left foot that hampered him for much of last season, Leidner has begun to look and feel like a fifth-year senior quarterback ought to.
“I’m on a really good page with the receivers as well as the running backs and everybody on the offensive side of the football,” Leidner said. “We’re a tight-knit group, and we really practice and work hard.”
The Gophers (2-0) will again be without tight end Brandon Lingen and wide receiver Rashad Still again on Saturday against the Rams (2-1) because of injuries, but freshman Tyler Johnson and junior Brian Smith have been helpful down-field complements to Drew Wolitarsky.
Wolitarsky, who has 12 catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns, has emerged as the go-to wide receiver the Gophers and Leidner need. The senior connection was in midseason form two weeks ago against Indiana State .
“I’m seeing a different Mitch off the field and on the field as well,” Wolitarsky said. “The work this guy has put in is amazing and is definitely something I look up to and I know a lot of guys look up to.”
Here are some key things to know about the game:
The Gophers used three field goals by Ryan Santoso, including an 18-yarder in overtime to beat the Rams in Fort Collins, Colorado last year. That snapped a program-record 10-game home winning streak for the Rams.
The Rams returned 13 starters from a 7-6 team that finished 5-3 in the Mountain West Conference and lost to Nevada in the Arizona Bowl in coach Mike Bobo’s first season. This will be Colorado State’s first trip to a Big Ten stadium since playing at the Metrodome in 2005, a 56-24 victory by Minnesota.
CLIMBING THE HILL
CSU True freshman Collin Hill, in his first career start, completed 21 of 27 passes for 315 yards and four scores plus a 51-yard touchhown run in a win over FCS opponent Northern Colorado . Fourth-year junior Nick Stevens started the opener, a 44-7 loss to Colorado, but fifth-year senior Faton Bauta took over in the second half. Bauta, a graduate transfer from Georgia, took snaps the following week in a victory over UTSA, until Hill entered in the fourth quarter.
“There was a confidence level going up, like, ‘OK, we’re going to be able to complete some passes,’” Bobo said, adding: “We said there’s going to be some growing pains, but we thought the upside was too promising.”
Shannon Brooks has been cleared to return from a broken foot, giving the Gophers their leading rusher from last season to join Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary in a deep backfield. Smith and McCrary combined for 387 yards and five touchdowns rushing over the first two games.
“We’ve got ways to get at least two of them on the field at the same time,” coach Tracy Claeys said. “You always want your best people on the field all the time.”
The Gophers, given a boost by two junior-college transfers in the starting lineup in right guard Vincent Calhoun and left tackle Garrison Wright and the arrival of new offensive line coach Bart Miller, have not allowed a sack yet. The Rams, who have switched their base defense to a 3-4 alignment, lost their entire starting defensive line from last season to graduation.
“It’s one of those games you’ve got dig your cleats in the turf,” Bobo said.
CALL THE CARPENTER
Santoso, a junior, preferred to switch to punter this season. He’s averaging 41.9 yards per attempt. Sophomore Emmit Carpenter has taken over as the kicker, and he hasn’t missed yet on 10 extra points and four field goals.
“He’s just building confidence in himself to go out there and just be automatic every time,” linebacker Jack Lynn said. “So we’re 100 percent confident in his capabilities.”
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.