Bowl season resumes on Boxing Day with three games, including the Quick Lane Bowl between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The game is in Detroit, giving Minnesota a slight home-field edge. However, the Yellow Jackets are listed as 5.5-point favorites with an over/under of 57 points.
For Georgia Tech, this will be the swan song of head coach Paul Johnson, who is retiring after 22 seasons as a head coach, including the last 11 with the Yellow Jackets. The Yellow Jackets finished the season strong, winning four of their last five games, and they will surely want to send Johnson into retirement with a win.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is grateful just to be playing in a bowl game. The Gophers lost four games in a row during the middle of the season but won three of their final five games to become bowl eligible at 6-6. Minnesota clinched eligibility with a blowout win of rival Wisconsin in their season finale, allowing the Gophers to take a big step forward in P.J. Fleck’s second season at the helm.
Strength to Weakness
A trait of Fleck’s teams throughout his career is a willingness to run the ball, which usually makes them good running teams. However, that’s not necessarily been the case with the Golden Gophers this season. Minnesota is averaging just 163 yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry on the ground, both modest numbers for a team intent on establishing the run. To be fair, freshman running back Mohamed Ibrahim finished the season strong, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in their bowl game.
The Golden Gophers may have to rely on freshman quarterback Tanner Morgan, who took over late in the season. While he led the team to three key wins down the stretch, Morgan is still lacking experience and posted modest numbers in November when Minnesota played three straight games against bowl teams. He’s someone who needs a steady running game to help him out.
You Know It’s Coming
This may change when Johnson retires, but the Yellow Jackets are still a triple-option team, so the Golden Gophers better be ready for it. This wasn’t Georgia Tech’s best offensive team of Johnson’s tenure, but they have a two-year starter at quarterback running the show in TaQuon Marshall. The Yellow Jackets also averaged 40 points per game on the season, although that number dropped to 31 points against bowl teams.
The good news for Minnesota is that they’ve had close to a month to prepare for the triple-option, which should help. The bad news is that they gave up over five yards per carry to opposing teams this season that were running more traditional offenses. That may not bold well for their chances of slowing down Georgia Tech’s rushing game, even with the extra prep time.
The Ball Keeps Rolling
The biggest key in this game is the Golden Gophers getting stops against Georgia Tech’s triple-option early. Once the Yellow Jackets get rolling offensively, they’re tough to stop. Even if Georgia Tech doesn’t start fast, the Golden Gophers are in line for a close, hard-fought game. There is a decent chance that the Yellow Jackets can start fast and run away with this game. Bet on Georgia Tech covering the 5.5-point spread against Minnesota.