After a strong finish to the 2018 season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers will open 2019 against FCS heavyweight South Dakota State. Defense paced the Gophers in the latter portion of the season when they allowed just 14.8 points per game in the final four contests.
What plagued the Gophers on defense, however, was the running game. The Jackrabbits come into Thursday’s opener boasting one of the top rushing offenses in the FCS, averaging 230 yards on the ground last season including 6.7 yards per carry and 37 touchdowns — seventh-most in FCS. Conversely, Minnesota’s defense allowed 173 rush yards per game, 5.2 yards per carry, and 20 touchdowns.
The Jackrabbits defense returns its entire starting front seven from a defense that recorded 20 sacks but allowed opponents nearly 400 yards per game and an 81 percent conversion rate in the red zone.
SDSU’s offense will feature a new quarterback for the first time in three years as J’Bore Gibbs takes the reigns under center. Thursday will mark his first career start, but he will have All-American receiver Cade Johnson and running back Pierre Strong at his disposal after 1,000 yards seasons and double-digit touchdowns for both.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Thursday, August 29, 9 p.m. EST
TCF Bank Stadium
Coverage: Fox Sports 1
*All odds and betting info courtesy of OddsShark and originally posted by Bookmaker
Spread: Minnesota (-14.5 at -105)
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan showed a ton of poise at the tail-end of last season. He led the Gophers to a must-win victory at Wisconsin to clinch bowl eligibility in their final regular-season game last season. Morgan followed that up with an impressive victory in the Quick Lane Bowl.
In all, 16 starters return for the Gophers this season after serving as the youngest team in FBS a year ago. There will be work to improve further throughout this season as well, but all signs indicate a strong year for the Gophers.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
It’s not often you look at an FCS school with such high regard, but this year could be a special one for the Jacks. Returning Johnson and Strong who combined for 28 touchdowns last season adds danger to an already talented offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Christian Rozeboom has been unstoppable much of his collegiate career. Last year he recorded 105 tackles, his lowest number through 13 games during his three-year career. But with 10.5 tackles for a loss, he set a new career-high.
With perennial FCS champion North Dakota State graduating a large number of its starters from a year ago, this year could mark a changing of the guard for the Jackrabbits.
Minnesota is 6-0 against South Dakota State all-time, including a narrow victory in their last meeting a decade ago.
South Dakota State is 1-8 against FBS opponents with their lone win coming at Kansas in 2015. Most of their prior matchups with FBS foes have been a shootout, including their season opener last year which featured a 59-41 defeat at TCU.
With that in mind, take the over. But don’t count the Jackrabbits out as a contender in this game. They can move the ball well on the ground and will do so against a team that struggled to defend the run all last year.
Pick: Minnesota wins a VERY CLOSE game, so take South Dakota State against the spread (+14.5).