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Three things to know about Minnesota

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The Golden Gophers are coming into Evanston on a hot streak.

Nebraska v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

This Saturday, the Wildcats take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Ryan Field. After a devastating loss to the Michigan Wolverines this past weekend, the ‘Cats are looking to add another conference win under their belts.

Their rush defense is ranked No. 5 in the country

The ‘Cats’ rushing game will have their hands full this weekend when facing the Gophers run defense. From last year to this year the defensive line got a complete face-lift. According to cfbstats.com, in the 2020 season, the Gophers finished ranked 102nd, giving up an average of 207.1 rushing yards per game. This year, they now rank fifth, averaging only about 85.7 rush yards allowed. The star of the Gophers front seven is grad transfer linebacker Jack Gibbens, who currently leads the team in tackles, forced fumbles and passes defended. Another stand-out member of Minnesota’s defense is a transfer and former national champion from Clemson University in defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney.

They took down Nebraska two weeks ago

The Gophers played astonishingly well against the Cornhuskers, having a nearly flawless first half offensively. Quarterback Tanner Morgan was 14-of-15 for 171 yards at the end of the first half, putting Minnesota up 21-9. While the Cornhuskers seemed to wake up after the half — forcing two interceptions and putting up 14 more points — Morgan finished the game with a total of 209 yards, 2 TD and 2 INT. Another star of the game was Bryce Williams, Minnesota’s redshirt junior running back who was third on the Gophers’ depth chart to start the season. He rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell returned to the field after missing the previous few games due to injuries. Autman-Bell came back with a bang, bringing in a career-high 11 receptions and 103 receiving yards. The Gophers made it abundantly clear that they were not just a passing team, they have a balanced offensive attack that can put up some points.

P.J. Fleck has turned the program around

P.J. Fleck was hired by the Gophers in 2017, and almost immediately, he began to revamp the program. Known as a rising star in the coaching industry, Fleck has already guided the Gophers to their most victories in one season since 1904 and coached many All-Americans, Academic All-Americans and Academic All-Big Ten players. He was named the Big Ten coach of the year in 2019 and has had eight NFL draft picks while at the school. He had a great year in 2019, leading the Gophers to seven Big Ten victories for the first time in school history, winning a New Year’s bowl game and ending the season with the Gophers ranked No. 10.

This year, Fleck has ramped up his defensive line, as previously mentioned, which had dominated their game against the Maryland Terrapins last week. After the game, Fleck told the Star Tribune that this defensive line was the “best” he has ever had.