After falling in the season opener to Nevada 23-12, the Aggies are already gearing up for their road opener Thursday against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in what is sure to be an awkward, tension filled game.
Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck and Jerry Kill have well documented beef, albeit mostly coming from Jerry Kill, that will add an extra layer to this game. Will Kill go through on his threat and not shake P.J.’s hand after the game? Will the Aggies be extra motivated for their coach, despite playing on Saturday? Both are relevant questions we will find out the answer to on Thursday.
New Mexico State Aggies (FBS Independent) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Date/Time: Thursday, September 1, 7:00 MT/8:00 CT
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 99.5 KXPZ
Location: Huntington Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Betting Line: Minnesota is favored by 36.5 points
Series History: Minnesota leads the series 2-1. The Gophers have won two straight and won 48-10 back in 2018.
Minnesota Offense vs New Mexico State Defense
The Gophers are having a reunion of sorts with offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca returning along with sixth year quarterback Tanner Morgan, and 2020 Big Ten Running Back of the Year Mohamad Ibrahim.
In 2019, Ciarrocca and Morgan combined for a historic season that saw Morgan throw for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns and will hope to rekindle the magic.
I expect the Gophers to pass just as much as Nevada did but the talent is much higher. We will see if the Aggie secondary has grown from last year or if big plays will come in bunches.
The NM State defense will have to stop sixth year receiver Chris Autman-Bell, who led Minnesota with 506 yards, along with Dylan Wright who added 365 yards and is primed for a good year.
Those two are joined by Brevyn Spann-Ford, Mike Brown-Stephens, and Daniel Jackson who all had over 20 catches last season.
While the pieces are there for a rekindled offense, the Gophers do have to replace four starters along an offensive line that paved the way for 198 rushing yards a game last season. Both of the Gophers returning running backs are coming back from injuries too, with Ibrahim coming back from an Achilles injury and backup Trey Potts also coming off a season ending injury.
That may bode well for an improved front seven for the Aggies, who looked decent against the run for most of the Nevada game. I expect them to do well to start but they may falter as the game goes on after playing so recently.
Aggies Offense vs Minnesota Defense
The Aggies are looking for more from the running game, will they be able to produce against the Gophers?
It’s possible, but not likely. Minnesota has to replace two NFL Draft choices in Esezi Otomewo and Boye Mafe along with Nyles Pinckney so there will be three new starters up front.
Thomas Rush leads the unit after a breakout 2021 and is the only returning starter which means the Aggies might be able to sneak up on the defensive line and exploit some of the inexperience.
At linebacker, Mariano Sori-Marin is the main man and will be calling the shots. He will be joined by Braelen Oliver and Donald Willis. Those three will form the linebacker unit for the Gophers and have plenty of experience.
On the back end, the Gophers are well set. Sophomore corner Justin Walley is thought of as one of the best in the B1G after just one season and is back along with safety Jordan Howden and Tyler Nubin. 1st Team C-USA Western Kentucky transfer Beanie Bishop will slide into a corner spot along side Justin Walley.
I imagine the Aggies will have a tough time throwing the ball but will almost surely not throw as many interceptions. I have a hard time seeing the Aggies moving the ball very much at all but I could be wrong.
The Aggies may keep it close for a quarter but the lack of depth will show and they will fall away late.
Expect a few boos for Jerry, especially if he runs off the field afterwards.
Gophers 42, Aggies 10