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Big Ten preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Minnesota junior running back Kobe McCrary (22) celebrates after his 50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against Indiana State at TCF Bank Stadium on, Sept. 10. Courtesy of TNS

Minnesota junior running back Kobe McCrary (22) celebrates after his 50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against Indiana State at TCF Bank Stadium on, Sept. 10. Courtesy of TNS

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

2015 Record: 6-7 (2-6 in Big Ten)

Head Coach: Tracy Claeys 

2016 record, so far: 2-0

Record vs. OSU since 2006: 0-6

What’s happened so far in 2016: The Golden Gophers already are off to a better start than last season, winning their first two games of the season. They began their season by defeating the Pac-12’s Oregon State Beavers at home, 30-23. Tracy Claeys’ men followed that up with a more comprehensive 52-28 success over Football Championship Subdivision opponent Indiana State.

Key Offensive Player: Minnesota’s ground game has been the staple of its offense so far this season. Redshirt sophomore running back Rodney Smith has been at the forefront of coach Claeys’ offense. He led the Golden Gophers’ rushers and receivers in touchdowns and yards through the first two games. Smith also ran 25 times for a career high 125 yards in the win against Oregon State, collecting two touchdowns in the process. However, he was less active against Indiana State, rushing a pedestrian 74 yards in 17 tries, but he picked up another touchdown in the victory. His three touchdowns already surpass his total for 2015. With 199 total yards, he currently is the fourth-best rusher in the Big Ten conference.

Key Defensive Player: Freshman defensive lineman Tai’yon Devers is already establishing himself as a leader on the Golden Gophers’ defense. His only two recorded tackles have occurred in the backfield and resulted in turnovers. Devers has two sacks and two forced fumbles which resulted in two touchdowns for Minnesota against Oregon State. The former ESPN class of 2016 three-star prospect also saw action against Indiana state.

Weaknesses: Despite the 2-0 start, the Golden Gophers have been average at best when compared with the rest of the conference. Their 436.5 offensive yards puts them squarely in the middle of the Big Ten, while 336.5 yards allowed per game ranks ninth in the conference. The Gophers open their Big Ten schedule on Oct. 1 against Penn State. To further complicate matters, four players were suspended by coach Claeys after Minneapolis police said they were possibly connected to a reported rape earlier this month. Defensive backs sophomore KiAnte Hardin, redshirt freshman Ray Buford, redshirt freshman Dior Johnson and freshman defensive lineman Tamarion Johnson were suspended indefinitely by coach Claeys. Coach Claeys situations are rectified during the bye week, after which Minnesota faces the Colorado State Rams.

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