Minnesota v. West Virginia: Guaranteed Rate Bowl Preview

Dec. 23, 2021After an up-and-down 8-4 season, the Gophers will put a bow on their 2021 campaign with a Guaranteed Rate Bowl matchup against West Virginia.

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Broadcast Info:

  • Date: Tues., Dec. 28
  • TV channel: ESPN
  • Time of kickoff: 9:15 p.m. (CST)
  • Broadcast team: Dave Flemming (play-by-play) & Rod Gilmore (color)
  • Betting line: Minnesota (-4.5) v. West Virginia; over/under (44.5)

Opponent Information (West Virginia):

  • 2020 record: 6-4
    • Autozone Liberty Bowl Champions (24-21 W vs. Army)
  • 2021 record: 6-6
    • @ Maryland 24-30 L
    • V. LIU Brooklyn 66-0 W
    • V. Virginia Tech 27-21 W
    • @ Oklahoma 13-16 L
    • V. Texas Tech 20-23 L
    • @ Baylor 20-45 L
    • @ TCU 29-17 W
    • V. Iowa State 38-31 W
    • V. Oklahoma State 3-24 L
    • @ Kansas State 17-34 L
    • V. Texas 31-23 W
    • @ Kansas 34-28 W
  • Head Coach: Neal Brown (3rd season)
  • Players to watch: Jarret Doege (QB), Dante Stills (DT), Winston Wright Jr. (WR), Josh Chandler-Semeno (LB), Sean Mahone (S)

After an 8-4 season with a massive win over Wisconsin in the final week of the regular season, it was a disappointment for most Gophers fans to see them set to play in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl against (6-6) West Virginia. But here we are, and in only five sleeps Minnesota will look to end 2021 on a high note against a Mountaineers team that has only had two losses by more than two scores.

West Virginia season storylines:

  • 28 players in the transfer portal:

West Virginia is a program that has been hit extremely hard by the new era of the transfer portal. With as many as 28 total players officially entering their name into the portal since Jan. 1, they’ve had to get creative with constructing their roster. With most of their 22 starters remaining with the team, the Mountaineers have been able to put a band-aid on the issue, but their depth has been hit with an atom bomb.

Much of West Virginia’s main contributors from the 2021 season are still with the team, so you would have to imagine that this development won’t play a major factor in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, but losing 28 players in a calendar year cannot be a good sign for team morale in the locker room.

  • Very average team:

West Virginia’s 6-6 record in 2021 reflects its team very well. Ranking as a top-50 defense in points allowed per game, passing yards allowed per game, and rushing yards allowed per game, it seems as if that would be the strength of their team. Ranking as a top 80 offense in PPG, No. 44 in passing yards per game, and No. 97 in rushing yards per game, there is really nothing that the Mountaineers doo that will jump off the page.

With only two of its losses, this season coming by more than 16 pounds, West Virginia has been able to stick with almost every opponent they have played against. Neal Brown has been an average coach during his tenure in Morgantown, going 17-17, in now his third season with the program. As a whole, the Mountaineers don’t have any major red flags or any major strengths, their well-rounded game should present the Gophers with a challenge.

  • RB Leddie Brown opts out of Bowl Game:

One of the best running backs in West Virginia program history Leddie Brown decided to opt-out of the bowl game and prepare for the NFL Draft. After back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, he had certainly become the most effective offensive weapon for the Mountaineers. After picking up 1,065 yards on the ground and 217 yards through the air, he had given his team versatility at the RB position.

Redshirt-sophomore Tony Mathis and true freshman Justin Johnson Jr. will likely take on Brown’s workload for the bowl game. With only 78 combined carries this season, the Mountaineers will need either guy to step up against Minnesota’s daunting run defense.

Gophers’ path to victory:

I expect this game to be a bit of a low-scoring slugfest, as both teams’ defenses are certainly the strength of their football team. I think the Mountaineers will look to throw the ball with their veteran QB Jarett Doege who has proven to be more than competent at the position, so I think it will be very important for the Gophers’ secondary to show up in a big way. If they’re able to limit big plays from the back end, I think WVU will have a tough time putting together long drives against Minnesota.

On the offensive side of the ball, I don’t expect this to be any different of a game plan that we have seen all season. Even with Mike Sanford Jr. gone, I fully anticipate this being a rush-heavy attack. With no Gophers’ opting out of the bowl game, I think their veteran offensive line should have no issues putting together another dominant performance. Getting a clean game from Tanner Morgan and the passing attack could be huge momentum heading into next season, but I am not sure if we will even need to see it against the Mountaineers.

At the end of the day, these are two well-rounded teams that do not commit many mistakes, I think whoever commits the fewest will have the best chance of winning. A 9-4 season could’ve been a disappointment heading into this season, but it should provide some serious momentum with this program heading into what should be an interesting 2022.

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