Good afternoon from TCF Bank Stadium, where the Gophers face Fresno State at 6:30 p.m. (Fox Sports One). After drubbing New Mexico State 48-10 in the Aug. 30 season opener, the Gophers will face a much stiffer test from the Bulldogs, the preseason pick to Mountain West Conference’s West Division.
Fresno State, which went from 1-11 in 2016 to 10-4 last year in coach Jeff Tedford’s first year with the Bulldogs, opened its season last Saturday with a 79-13 drubbing of Idaho, which has dropped down to the FCS level. The Bulldogs forced seven turnovers against the Vandals and converted them into 38 points.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck considers Fresno State a Big Ten-caliber team. “They are just very sound, very disciplined,’’ he said. “They are a tough, tough football team. You can see why they won 10, 11 games last year.’’
Last year during training camp, it appeared there was a chance that the Gophers would face quarterback Marcus McMaryion when they played Oregon State. But McMaryion didn’t win the Beavers’ starting job, and as a graduate transfer, he landed at Fresno State. He took over as the starter in the third week of the season and guided the Bulldogs to a 9-2 record.
Fleck said the Gophers must respect McMaryion’s running ability.
“He’s a very athletic and very accurate quarterback,’’ the coach said. “… When he runs he will kill you, but [Tedford] is not designing everything in their offense around him running. When he’s at his most dangerous is when he’s in the pocket and is on the run. He can make people miss in the open field.
“He still wants to throw the ball first. He’s a quarterback first and a runner second. When he has a chance to run, he will hurt you bad.’’
It'll be interesting to see how the Gophers true freshmen playing key roles – most notably quarterback Zack Annexstad, wide receiver Rashod Bateman and cornerback Terell Smith – fare against an opponent much better than they faced in the opener. Those three certainly didn’t look like untested freshmen against New Mexico State.
Other areas of intrigue about this game:
* What will Antoine Winfield Jr. do for an encore after his 76-yard punt return for a touchdown in the opener? And will Fleck use him on offense?
* What will we see from wide receiver/Wildcat quarterback Seth Green? His two TD runs in the opener showed how versatile the sophomore can be. Defenses will have to account for him.
* How many times will Rodney Smith touch the ball? The senior running back had 26 touches for 189 all-purpose yards in the opener, an average of 7.3 yards. If Smith approaches those stats again, the Gophers should be in fine shape.
Kickoff will officially be at 6:40 p.m.