San Jose State wide receiver Chandler Jones led the nation in receiving yards this week. Jones torched the Golden Gophers‘ secondary for 197 yards and three touchdowns on just seven catches. What makes that line uglier for Minnesota is that Jones isn’t even the Spartans’ best receiver. Noah Grigsby was out of the game with a knee injury.
Through four games, the Golden Gophers have given up seven touchdown passes and have registered just six sacks. Their opponents have averaged 11 yards per pass completion. Compared to the four rushing touchdowns and 3.4 yards per rush average that Minnesota has allowed on the ground, the weakness of this Golden Gophers team is definitely defending the pass.
It’s not for lack of experience that the Minnesota secondary is struggling. Starting safeties senior Brock Vereen and junior Cedric Thompson both finished last season as the starters for a pass defense that ranked 12th in FBS. Although junior Derrick Wells is playing his first year at corner for the Golden Gophers, he has plenty of experience at safety.
Junior Marcus Jones is the lone inexperienced starter as he made the switch from wide receiver in the offseason.
The Big Ten conference schedule for Minnesota presents more challenges. Seven of their eight conference opponents this year feature at least one wide receiver who is currently in the top eight in the Big Ten in receptions per game. Five of those same receivers rank one through five in the Big Ten in receiving yards as well. Those five receivers have combined for 15 touchdown catches so far this season.
This week, the Golden Gophers will face Iowa‘s Kevonte Martin-Manley whose 20 receptions are good for fifth in the Big Ten. Martin-Manley has been the focus of a limited Hawkeyes passing game in a run-heavy offense. However, Iowa has shown in its first four games that it isn’t reluctant to throw the ball when it believes it would be advantageous to do so.
Going down the line, Minnesota will have to deal with the likes of Penn State‘s Allen Robinson (26 catches for 448 yards and three touchdowns), Northwestern‘s Tony Jones (24 catches for 362 yards and three touchdowns) and Wisconsin‘s Jared Abbrederis (23 catches for 365 yards and three touchdowns).
Minnesota has been proficient at running the ball and stopping the run through four games, but have played their worst football when the opposing offenses have dropped back to throw. The upside is that if the Golden Gophers can improve this area of their game, they should be able to compete in every contest.
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