Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
2018 record: 7-6 (3-6 Big Ten)
Head coach: P.J. Fleck (third year, )
2019 record so far: 3-0
Record against Ohio State since 2010: 0-4
What’s happened so far in 2019:
The Golden Gophers are currently undefeated, although they have only faced nonconference opponents. Minnesota entered the fourth quarter of its season opener at home against South Dakota State down 21-20. It struck on fumble recovery, which led to a touchdown and two-point conversion to steal a win. In Weeks 2 and 3, Minnesota snuck out three-point wins against both Georgia Southern and Fresno State, needing double overtime against the Bulldogs to do so.
Key offensive player:
Minnesota completed just 14.6 passes per game in 2018, and then-junior wide receiver Tyler Johnson accounted for 41 percent of them with his 78 receptions. Johnson added a team-leading 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns, making him the go-to pass option for redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan this season. After just 99 yards in his first two games, Johnson exploded for 140 and three touchdowns on 10 catches against Georgia Southern, including the game-winning score with 13 seconds remaining to avoid the upset.
Key defensive player:
On the other side of the ball, redshirt senior defensive back Chris Williamson has stood out among a Minnesota defense that is No. 7 in the Big Ten in total defense and No. 13 in points allowed per game. In the season opener, the 6-foot, 205-pound Williamson completed a 43-yard pick-six to put the team up 20-7 in the third quarter. So far in 2019, he’s recorded 13 tackles, two pass breakups and one sack. This is Williamson’s second season as a Golden Gopher after transferring from Florida in 2016 and sitting out the 2017 season.
The Minnesota defense as a whole has been less than stellar, allowing 29.3 points on average thus far. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi stepped into the position in the middle of the 2018 season — later earning the job permanently — after former defensive coordinator Robb Smith was relieved of his duties. However, Rossi has not seen ideal performance from his defense, as opposing teams have scored on all nine trips to the red zone against Minnesota, with seven of the drives resulting in touchdowns. The slow start may be a result of losing the squad’s top two tacklers from 2018 in linebacker Blake Cashman and defensive back Jacob Huff, but there is still time for others to step up and fill the needed rolls.