IU football 2021 opponent profile: Minnesota

Indiana begins one of the most important seasons in the history of its football program on Sept. 4. The Hoosiers are coming off a 6-2 campaign and an Outback Bowl berth in 2020 and are expected to be a preseason Top 25 team. We are profiling each of the 12 teams Indiana will face this season as they try to build on that momentum

Opponent: Minnesota

Date/Time/TV: Nov. 20, time and television TBA.

Location: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington. 

2020 record/bowl result: 3-4 overall, 3-4 in the Big Ten. No bowl game. 

Returning Starters, Offense (10): QB Tanner Morgan, RB Mohamed Ibrahim, WR Chris Autman-Bell, WR Daniel Jackson, TE Bryce Witham, LT Sam Schlueter, LG Axel Ruschmeyer, C John Michael Schmitz, RG Conner Olsen, RT Blaise Andries.

Starters Lost, Offense (1): WR Rashad Bateman.

Offensive Outlook: Rashod Bateman was a third-team All-Big Ten pick after playing just five games before he opted out and he was a first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens. He was a second-team All-American in 2019 when the Golden Gophers went 11-2, so his loss is fairly major. However, in Mohamed Ibrahim, the Gophers have the most accomplished running back in the Big Ten, and in Tanner Morgan they have one of its most accomplished quarterbacks. In just seven games last season, Ibrahim rushed for 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns, an average of over 150 yards per game. Morgan wasn’t nearly as effective as he was in 2019 when he set a school record with 3,253 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, but he still averaged almost 200 passing yards per game. The Gophers will need someone to step up on the perimeter after losing Bateman and Tyler Johnson the last two seasons, but they did add Dylan Wright of Texas A&M, a former four-star recruit, through the transfer portal. The Gophers return their whole starting lineup, which includes two players who earned All-Big Ten mention in Connor Olsen and Blaise Andries.

Returning Starters, Defense (10): DE Thomas Rush, DT Deangelo Carter, DT Micah Dew-Treadway, DE Esezi Otomweo, LB Josh Aune, LB Mariano Sori-Marin, DB Justus Harris, DB Coney Durr, DB Jordan Howden, DB Tyler Nubin

Starters Lost, Defense (1): DB Benjamin St. Juste.

Defensive Outlook: Minnesota’s defense lost most of its most productive players from its stellar 2019 defense, including Antoine Winfield Jr., Thomas Barber and Sam Renner, and as a result the Gophers gave up 415.9 yards per game in 2020 after surrendering 306.6 per game in 2019. They return almost all of their starters from the mediocre squad that finished 12th in the league against the run, but Benjamin St. Juste, an all-conference player and third-round pick of the Washington Football Team, is a significant loss.

Special Teams Returners (4): LS Brady Weeks, P Mark Crawford, PK Brock Walker, KO Dragan Kesich

Special Teams Losses: (2): Michael Lantz, PK, Anders Gelecinskyi, PK.

Special Teams Outlook: COVID-19 and its surrounding protocols did a number on Minnesota’s special teams in 2020, so much so that the Golden Gophers only attempted six field goals all season with none of them coming from 40 yards away or more. Brock Walker and Anders Gelecinskyi hit on two of them each. Walker comes back but Gelecinskyi is gone and so is Michael Lantz, who was supposed to be the starter. Crawford, the punter, averaged 37.8 yards per punt, which put him near the bottom in conference average.

Overall outlook: P.J. Fleck seemed to have Minnesota on a rocket ship trajectory through 2019 with its 11-2 record and Outback Bowl win over Auburn. But COVID didn’t treat Minnesota well and since 2019 the Gophers have lost two of the best wide receivers ever to dawn the uniform as well as several excellent defensive players. That being said, the Golden Gophers are not a team to be slept on and Indiana should take this one seriously even in its own stadium. Mohamed Ibrahim might be the nation’s best running back, Morgan is a more than capable playmaker as a quarterback, and there are several productive receivers in the fold even with Bateman and Johnson having moved on to professional football. The Gophers could be a force in the Big Ten West and they could be a dangerous late November visitor to Memorial Stadium the week before the Old Oaken Bucket game.

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