Going against the unique Minnesota offense a year ago was a bit eye-opening for some of the Colorado defenders.
It may not be as big of a shock this time, as the Buffaloes (0-2) visit the Gophers (2-0) at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Saturday (1:30 p.m., ESPN2).
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“Personally, and I know a lot of other guys feel the same way, we feel a lot more prepped going against Minnesota,” senior safety Isaiah Lewis said. “Last year, it’s a Big Ten team, and we don’t really see those formations and that size of guys. So this time, we’re recognizing formations, and we’re triggering. So I think we’re looking forward to the opportunity to kind of get some revenge.”
Minnesota rolled past the Buffs, 30-0, on Sept. 18, 2021, at Folsom Field. The Gophers’ offense didn’t really take over until late in the game, but still controlled the Buffs from start to finish. Sometimes utilizing six or seven offensive linemen to win the line of scrimmage, Minnesota has a powerful, run-first attack.
While the man running that offense last year, Mike Sanford, is now the offensive coordinator at Colorado, the Gophers haven’t changed much. It’s an offense that was constructed by Gophers head coach PJ Fleck and coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca before Sanford got to Minneapolis in 2020.
“That’s essentially what I was running the last two years with very small tweaks that fit what my experiences were,” Sanford said last month.
After Sanford was let go after the 2021 season, Fleck brought Ciarrocca back into the fold and they’re running their scheme once again.
No. 27 nationally in rushing a year ago, Minnesota is No. 2 through the first two weeks of this season, averaging 303 yards per game on the ground. The Gophers lead the country with 12 rushing touchdowns.
Star running back Mohamed Ibrahim is leading the way. He didn’t play against the Buffs a year ago because he suffered a season-ending injury two weeks before the CU game, but is currently seventh nationally with 131.0 yards per game. He’s averaging 5.95 yards per carry and has scored four touchdowns.
Trey Potts, who had 121 yards and three TDs against the Buffs last year, is averaging 84.0 yards per game and 6.2 per carry so far this year. Another back, Bryce Williams, is averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
All of them are running behind a starting offensive line that averages 316 pounds per man. At times, the Gophers will bring in a sixth or seventh offensive lineman.
“I was explaining to some of the guys that if you’re a step too late, you’ve got a fullback who’s the size of a tackle, so you can’t (be late),” Lewis said. “It’s definitely been helpful playing them last year and going into this week.”
While the run game is a challenge, the Minnesota offense is led by sixth-year senior quarterback Tanner Morgan, who has completed 27-of-37 passes for 461 yards and a touchdown so far this season. He’s also rushed for three scores.
Morgan didn’t have a great game against the Buffs (11-of-17, 164 yards), but he will challenge them because of his experience. Lewis said he can see Morgan’s tendencies better now than a year ago after playing against him, but recognizes the challenge of facing an experienced QB.
“(Veteran quarterbacks) are confident in their reads, so that makes us have to be that much cleaner in our reads,” Lewis said.
The first two weeks have been a struggle for the CU defense, but Lewis said the Buffs simply need to buckle down and focus on little things.
“Attention to detail,” he said. “We all need to get off our blocks and then go get the runner. That’s been the emphasis is kind of just getting to the ball and fitting our gaps the way we’re supposed to.”
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