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Rutgers vs Minnesota: Complete Opponent Preview

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Maryland
This picture gives me nightmares so I had to share
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers heads to Minnesota this Saturday to take on the 4-2 Golden Gophers. This marks the first ever matchup between the two teams and I look forward to seeing how this matchup takes shape in the coming years.

Brief Overview

Ranking: N/A

Head Coach: Tracy Claeys (4-2)

2015 Record: 4-2 (1-2)

Current Streak: W1

SB Nation Site: The Daily Gopher

One Big Thing

Minnesota’s starting QB Mitch Leidner and starting tackle Jonah Pirsig are both out with injuries. Leidner’s injury opens the door for Conor Rhoda to start. Rhoda was not impressive against Maryland, going 7-15 for 82 yards with a 17-yard touchdown pass. He did not, however, throw any interceptions. This won’t be his first career start so look for him to be more comfortable this time around. Let’s also not forget Illinois beat Rutgers with their backup QB.

Opponent Depth Chart

Key Offensive Players

RB Rodney Smith

Smith will be the most important player for the offense with Leidner out. They leaned on him heavily against Maryland and he delivered with 144 yards and 2 scores. The Rutgers run defense has been dismal to say the least. It doesn’t help they are stretched paper thin at linebacker and are playing their 7th straight game without a bye week. Look for Minnesota to pound the rock with Smith all afternoon.

WR Drew Wolitarsky

Wolitarsky is a senior and the team’s best pass catcher. At 6-3 220, he will most definitely draw comparisons to Jordy Nelson on the TV broadcast. With the exception of the game against Maryland, where Minnesota barely threw the ball, Wolitarsky has been very consistent. His height gives him an advantage in the red zone, but Blessaun Austin and Isaiah Wharton are not small corners and have played very good end zone defense. Look for him to be a guy they look to on third downs and short yardage situations.

Key Defensive Players

LB Jonathan Celestin

Celestin leads the team in tackles with 43 and is second with 4.5 TFLs. He also has a sack and 3 passes defended. It is also worth noting he has only started 4 of their 6 games. He is the main component of the defense and is a dominant linebacker that Rutgers currently lacks. Most B1G teams have a linebacker like Celestin, so Rutgers should be used to gameplanning against him.

DB Damarius Travis

Travis is a 5th-year senior who has a nose for the ball. Playing in the defensive backfield hasn’t stopped him from picking up 4 TFLs and being 3rd on the team in tackles. He has also deflected 4 passes in the secondary. Against Rutgers, he is best utilized in coverage, creating a matchup problem for the Rutgers receivers who have had trouble getting open this season.

Why they are better than Rutgers

Minnesota has had a philosophy and team identity that has been installed and run to a tee for years. Tracy Claeys was not a sexy hire, but he gets the job done. They are the type of team that will consistently win 8 games and upset a good team here and there. On offense, they run the ball incredibly well which Rutgers will have trouble stopping. They play incredible team defense and swarm to the ball. As a unit, they are averaging 8 TFLs/game which is insanely high. More impressively, these are all evenly distributed among what looks like just about everyone on the team. The Rutgers offensive line has been struggling recently and Minnesota will look to live in the backfield on Saturday.

Why they are beatable

Minnesota, like Iowa, is not an impressive team. They play every conference opponent the same but can play with anyone in the conference. Since they will be incredibly limited passing the ball, the chances of a close game are greater. The Rutgers offense will play with a much different energy with Gio Rescigno at QB and will do things that the Minnesota defense hasn’t seen them do on tape. I am confident Rutgers can play with Minnesota and maybe a couple of bounces go our way for once.

Stay tuned for even more game content, including roundtable predictions from the OTB staff as well as an official game preview later this week!