Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview 2022: Season Prediction, Breakdown, Key Games, Players

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Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview 2022: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Minnesota season with what you need to know and keys to the season.

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Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview
Head Coach: PJ Fleck, 6th year at Minnesota, 35-23
11th year overall, 65-45
2021 Preview: Overall: 9-4, Conference: 4-3
Offense, Defense Breakdown | Keys To The Season
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Minnesota Top 10 Players | Minnesota Schedule & Analysis

Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview 2022

Full disclosure, I grew up in Minneapolis.

I was there for the 84-13 Nebraska win over the Golden Gophers.

I was there when a Lou Holtz-led team almost ended an Oklahoma national championship run before it started.

I sat through a whole lot of really, really, really bad college football.

I point all of that out only because the 1980s version of me would’ve killed for a program good enough to win three bowl games in four years, screw up a team as good as Wisconsin a few times, and win 11 games in a season and nine more two years later – let’s just skip 2020. So it doesn’t feel right to suggest this …

Yeah, Minnesota is winning now, and it’s enjoying some success, but this is the sixth year under head coach PJ Fleck.  It’s time to do more.

To the credit of Fleck, he has never expected or pushed for anything less than big things at a program that’s hasn’t been used to big things for a long, long time.

It wasn’t a fluke that last year’s team pushed Ohio State in the opener. It wasn’t crazy that it stuffed Wisconsin, and rolled through the midsection of the schedule, and totally shut down Colorado on the road and West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. But it did all that, and …

Who loses to Bowling Green? Not even Akron lost to Bowling Green. Who gets six points in a loss to Illinois? Even Northwestern scored two touchdowns against the Illini.

To go cliché, the Gophers are able to hang with just about anyone with the way it plays, but it’s also able to lose to almost anyone. Those bad losses last year were an aberration – the program has been good against the bad. This year, there can’t be those misses with a schedule that’s sneaky-tough – more on that in a moment.

There’s an established style. The running game will be great, the defense will find parts to fill in, and every game is going to be entertaining.

Minnesota is relevant. That might not seem like enough, but trust me, that’s pretty good.

Offense, Defense Breakdown | Keys To The Season
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Minnesota Top 10 Players | Minnesota Schedule & Analysis

Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview 2022: Offense, Defense, NEXT

Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview 2022: Offense

The 2019 Minnesota offense cranked up over 5,600 yards, the passing game was on fire over the second half of the season, and the team won 11 games. It was one loss to Wisconsin away from playing for the Big Ten title, and now the offense might be close to back to that form.

Last year’s offense got banged up and bruised, but it still managed to finish third in the nation in time of possession, third in the Big Ten in rushing, and it was just efficient enough passing to get the job done.

This year the parts are back to do even more, including Kirk Ciarrocca. He was the offensive coordinator then, took off for a few years, and now he’s back.  And so is …

Tanner Morgan. This is his fifth year as the starting quarterback, and now he’s looking to recapture the magic from 2019 when he was among the nation’s most efficient passers. He threw for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns three years ago, and pitched just 17 touchdown passes over the last two seasons.

Also back is Chris Autman-Bell after leading the team with 36 grabs and six touchdowns despite missing a few games hurt. In all the top five pass catchers are back, but they need to be more productive while keeping the occasional big play explosion.

But …

Even if the main focus is on getting more out of the passing attack, the running game will be the star. The line might have lost a few destructive forces in Daniel Faalele and Blaise Andries, but the remaining parts are strong around star C John Michael Schmitz and transfers Quinn Carroll (Notre Dame) and Chuck Filiaga (Michigan).

Mohamad Ibrahim was ripping through Ohio State in the season opener before suffering a torn Achilles heel. Leading rusher Ky Thomas is off to Kansas and No. 2 man Mar’Keise Irving is gone to Oregon. Ibrahim is hardly alone with Trey Potts and Bryce Williams good enough to rotate in.

Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview 2022: Defense

The defense was fantastic. It finished first in the Big Ten and third in the nation allowing 279 yards and just 17 points per game. The pass defense was great, the production against the run was even better.

A few key tacklers are back, but the losses at defensive tackle -along with pass rusher Boye Mafe and leading tackler Jack Gibbens – are massive. Any hope to match last year’s production starts with …

The defensive front. It didn’t do much to get into the backfield, but it was a rock. Clemson transfer Darnell Jefferies is a big help to go along with veteran Trill Carter inside, but the pressure has to come from Thomas Rush, Jay Joyner, and Vanderbilt transfer Lorenza Surgers on the outside.

Second-leading tackler Mariano Sori-Marin is back in the middle of the linebacking corps, and it’ll be mix of players to take over for the weakside job next to him with 24-tackle Braelen Oliver getting the first look.

The corners are all but starting over but the safeties are set. Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden are a nice 1-2 tandem, and on the way is WKU versatile veteran Beanie Bishop coming off a big season.

Justin Walley did nice job when he got his chances at corner. He’s likely going to be the shutdown man now on one side with Abilene Christian transfer Ryan Stapp stepping in on the other side.

Minnesota 2022 Preview | Keys To The Season
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Minnesota Top 10 Players | Minnesota Schedule & Analysis

Minnesota Golden Gophers: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats NEXT

Minnesota Golden Gophers: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats

Minnesota Golden Gophers: Key To The 2022 Offense

The passing game at least has to complete the midrange passes.

The ground game will work no matter what. Last year the Gophers were able to run on just about everyone even with a slew of injuries at running back. That’s not the problem. Getting big things out of the passing game is.

Check that – big things out of the passing game aren’t the problem. It’s the little-to-mundane things that are the struggle.

Tanner Morgan will hit a few deep shots here and there, but the Gophers ended the season connecting on just 59% of their passes. Getting to around 200 yards wasn’t the issue; it was how the O got there.

All the Gophers have to be is okay at hitting passes. Over the last three years they’re 17-2 when they complete 60% or more – that’s not asking for the world.

Minnesota Golden Gophers: Key To The 2022 Defense

Find a pass rush.

It’s been one of the strangest aspects of the Gopher defense over the last few years. It’s been good, and there’s been an occasional Boye Mafe or Carter Coughlin who can get to the quarterback, but the sack production overall has been soft.

It’s hard to complain when you have the nation’s No. 3 defense, but the Gophers only generated 4.2 tackles for loss and fewer than two sacks per game.

It would be nice if a Thomas Rush or Jah Joyner could emerge as the star, but as long as there’s just a little pressure from all parts, that might be enough.

Feast or famine, 19 of the team’s 25 sacks came in four games. The production has to be steadier. With that in mind …

Minnesota Golden Gophers: Key Player To The 2022 Season

DE Thomas Rush, Sr.
Sophomore Jah Joyner might turn out to be the star of the line, but Rush is the veteran everyone will count on early.

He was the second-leading playmaker behind the line with 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss to go along with 31 tackles in all. He was good in the rotation, and now he has to be fantastic.

Minnesota Golden Gophers: Key Transfer

CB/S Beanie Bishop, Jr.
The Gopher secondary needs as many playmakers as possible after losing a slew of last year’s stars. Bishop is versatile enough to play anywhere – he’s a corner by position, but he might be allowed to work in more of a freelancer go-make-plays hybrid role.

The 5-10, 185-pounder was a First Team All-Conference USA star last year for WKU with 42 tackles, three interceptions – taking one for a score – with four broken up passes and 6.5 tackles for loss. Minnesota would take that this year.

Minnesota Key Game To The 2022 Season

Iowa, Nov. 19
Wisconsin is the bigger game overall for the Gophers in the West, but they already own the Paul Bunyan Axe. Now they need Floyd of Rosedale – a bronze pig trophy – for the first time since 2014.

Seven years and nine of the last ten – that’s the futility against the team from that state down there. Change that up, win this, and the trip to Madison the following week might just be for a trip to Indianapolis.

Minnesota Golden Gophers: 2021 Fun Stats

– Minnesota 1st Quarter Scoring: 46 – 2nd Quarter Scoring: 128
– Time of Possession: Minnesota 35:25 – Opponents 24:33
– Fumbles: Opponents 18 (lost 9) – Minnesota 10 (lost 4)

Minnesota 2022 Preview
Offense, Defense Breakdown
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Minnesota Top 10 Players | Minnesota Schedule & Analysis

Minnesota Golden Gophers Season Prediction, What Will Happen NEXT

Minnesota Golden Gophers Season Prediction, What Will Happen

Okay, Minnesota. We’re done with losing to the Bowling Greens of the world, right?

Under PJ Fleck, the Gophers occasionally have this annoying habit of needing to work way too hard against mediocre non-conference teams.

In the past they were able to win them all even when a a South Dakota State – not mediocre, just FCS – or a Fresno State or a Buffalo made things interesting. The Bowling Green loss shook that.

So assuming the Gophers got the yips out of their system, the first part of the schedule works perfectly. They need time to gear back up and find the right groove among all the new defensive players and on the line, and that’s what New Mexico State and Western Illinois are for.

There’s no Ohio State to start the season like this year or Michigan to kickoff 2020.

That should be enough scrimmage time to handle a Colorado team that has to come to Minneapolis, and then it’s on with a trip to Michigan State to start the Big Ten season.

Set The Minnesota Golden Gophers Regular Season Win Total At … 7.5

Minnesota should be 3-0, and it should be able to take care of Northwestern and Rutgers in Huntington Bank.

Purdue, at Illinois, at Nebraska – get two wins in that group and everything is great, but it’ll more likely be one.

At Michigan State, at Penn State, at Wisconsin – all three of those lean heavily to the loss column, and as mentioned before, beating Iowa for this program is a problem.

There’s no Ohio State or Michigan to face, but there will be loss Minnesota shouldn’t take – look out for Rutgers; really – and two wins it probably will end up stealing – at Nebraska? at Michigan State?

Seven wins has to be a given at this point for the Gophers under Fleck. Eight would be good, nine would be fantastic.

Minnesota 2022 Preview
Offense, Defense Breakdown | Keys To The Season
Minnesota Top 10 Players | Minnesota Schedule & Analysis

2022 College Football Schedules: All 131 Teams