When the Gophers expect a rainy game day, they'll practice with wet footballs. When they anticipate a hot, muggy day, coach P.J. Fleck will turn up the heat in the indoor practice facility. And when they expect a rowdy road environment, loud noises will be blaring from speakers during practice.
But how does a team prepare for a less-than-full road venue, which the Gophers are expected to encounter Saturday when they play Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.?
"We have to bring our own juice, no matter where we go," Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan said. "You can't rely on outside factors, external factors to get you going."
Northwestern is averaging an announced attendance of 29,194 through four home games, or 61.9% of capacity at the 47,130-seat Ryan Field. The average is 31,233 for two Big Ten games, and the Wildcats could see a bump Saturday because they're honoring their 2000 Big Ten championship team. Still, end-zone tickets were going for $5 and lower-level midfield seats for less than $20 on vividseats.com on Tuesday afternoon.
For Morgan, it's not about the stadium but rather the respect for the team the Gophers are playing.
"They've got an elite fan base, and they've won two of the last three Big Ten West championships," he said. "We're not talking about a one-season thing. … We have a lot of respect for the way they do things."
Northwestern (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) has been on a roller-coaster lately, going 9-5 with a West title in 2018, dropping to 3-9 in 2019, rebounding to 7-2 with a West crown in 2020, then struggling out of the gate this year.
On Saturday, the Wildcats lost 33-7 to Michigan in Ann Arbor, trailing the Wolverines only 10-7 at halftime before giving up 17 points in the third quarter.
Fleck stressed that the Gophers (5-2, 3-1) must pay attention to details against a Northwestern team that has only three turnovers in conference play.
"It's a very disciplined team that doesn't beat itself," he said. "They fly around on defense and offense. They execute at a high level, and we've got to be at our best come Saturday."
Playing to their identity
The Gophers have rushed the ball 327 times this season and passed it 127 times, for a 72%-28% split. In Saturday's 34-16 victory over Maryland, they ran 56 times and passed 13, an 81.2%-18.8% split.
How does Morgan feel about that?
"That was very exciting, very fun to see the way our offensive line and running backs played it," said Morgan, pointing to the success of a 326-yard rushing day. "Whatever it takes to win, that's all we want to do. It doesn't matter if it's 80 runs or 80 passes."
Wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, who was Morgan's leading target with four catches for 35 yards, concurred.
"The way the run game is going right now, I'm proud of it and happy with it," he said. "That's our identity: We run the ball."
Battle-tested in practice
Powered by a veteran offensive line, the Gophers rank fifth in the nation in time of possession (35:02 per game). A deep defensive line has helped the Gophers rank fifth nationally in rushing defense, with 85.7 yards allowed per game. Together, they're making each other better.
"That defensive line and that front seven has gone against this offensive line for years," Fleck said on his KFXN-FM radio show. "Iron sharpens iron. When you practice against really good players every single day, you should get better."
Defensive end Boye Mafe sees it firsthand when he lines up against 6-9, 380-pound tackle Daniel Faalele.
"It's beneficial, especially going against people like Daniel," Mafe said. "You don't see that a lot. You're able to go against that every day and continuously throughout the year, it improves your game that much more."
Texas TE commits Gophers
Nathan Jones, a three-star tight end from Brock, Texas, announced via Twitter that he has committed to the Gophers for the 2022 recruiting class.
Jones, 6-4 and 240 pounds, originally committed to Abilene Christian, an FCS program, in August. He attended the Gophers game against Maryland on Saturday and received an offer from Fleck. On Tuesday, he decommitted from Abilene Christian and pledged to the Gophers.
Jones is rated the No. 56 tight end nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings of major national recruiting services. Jones also had scholarship offers from Texas-San Antonio and Vanderbilt. He is the 14th player to commit to Minnesota's recruiting Class of 2022.
Jones has 30 catches for 308 yards and six touchdowns for Brock, which is 8-0 and competes in Class 3A Division I. The Eagles are ranked No. 2 in their class by Dave Campbell's Texas Football website.