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Big Ten preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota running back Shannon Brooks runs for 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter against Ohio at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sept. 26. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Minnesota running back Shannon Brooks runs for 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter against Ohio at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sept. 26. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

2014 record: 8-5 (5-3 in the Big Ten)

Head coach: Jerry Kill (fourth year, 25-26)

2015 record so far: 3-1

Record vs. OSU since 2005: 0-7

What’s happened so far in 2015: The Golden Gophers started off the season with a tough opening loss to then-No. 3 TCU, 23-17. They followed that up with a 23-20 victory on the road against Colorado State. Minnesota then took on Kent State at home and won in a low-scoring game, 10-7. The Golden Gophers squeaked out another three-point victory in Week 4, this time over Ohio University, 27-24.

Key offensive player: Quarterback play is what will ultimately decide how Minnesota will fare against a tough Big Ten slate that includes Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State. Redshirt junior Mitch Leidner is its leader on offense and will have to continue to improve, as he sports an overall record of 13-7 as a starter. Through three games, Leidner has passed for 878 yards, four scores and two interceptions. Minnesota, however, is looking for increased efficiency overall, as the unit ranks last in the Big Ten in points per game, amassing a mere eight touchdowns in four games this season. Minnesota’s run game showed flashes in the win over Ohio on Saturday, as redshirt freshman running back Rodney Smith and true freshman running back Shannon Brooks combined on 26 carries for 176 yards and two touchdowns.

Key defensive player: Redshirt senior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun is Minnesota’s biggest playmaker on the outside and will be looked at for big plays again this season. Last year, Boddy-Calhoun intercepted five passes, which was tied for third-most in single-season school history. He was named to first-team all-Big Ten by the media for his efforts last season. Paired with senior Eric Murray, the tandem fortify the pass defense for the Gophers, which should prove to be one of the strongest units on the team. The defense, however, is a little banged up and will have to begin Big Ten with a few nagging injuries.

Weaknesses: Overall, Minnesota likely lacks the offensive production needed to compete for the Big Ten championship. The ground-and-pound style of play might be too conservative to keep up with teams like Ohio State, which it faces on Nov. 7 in Columbus. The Golden Gophers rank 119th out of 127 teams in scoring, and that offensive output will have to improve if they want to have any shot to play in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis in December.

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