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Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Three things to watch for

Tonight, West Virginia football heads into battle against Minnesota. There are a number of storylines surrounding this matchup but before kickoff, here are three main things about the game to watch out for.

Minnesota offensive line stacking up against West Virginia’s defensive front

The Golden Gophers have rushed the ball most effectively this season even despite losing five different running backs along the way. The pair of backs that still stand for Minnesota are freshman Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Iriving. Both the rushers combined to run the ball for nine touchdowns and 1,250 yards once they were called upon.

The question surrounding Minnesota’s running game will be the West Virginia defensive line and their ability to step up and stop the run. That will take a team effort for sure but particularly from defensive linemen like senior Dante Stills and sophomore Akheem Mesidor as well as linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo.

Tony Mathis stepping in for Leddie Brown at running back

Brown has been the senior leader of the running backs room all year long but both redshirt sophomore Tony Mathis and true freshman Justin Johnson Jr. have seen playing time in the backfield this year. The senior in Brown is surely a possibility draft pick in the NFL Draft next April after eclipsing another season of over 1,000 yards rushing the balls 1,065 yards this season along with 13 touchdowns.

Mathis has seen the most playing time up next with six games under his belt along with 256 yards on the ground with a game high yardage mark coming at Kansas the last game of the year for 118 yards. For the Mountaineers to run the ball effectively, they will also need to block well in front of the backfield on the offensive line as sophomore Zach Frazier and freshman Wyatt Milum look to be up to the task.

Controlling the ball/time of possession and first downs

Neal Brown explained it as soon as his team’s plane touched down in the desert state on Christmas Day that his team will need to be the better team in “turnover margin and first downs.” That would make a lot of sense against a Minnesota team that is rushing the football close to 200 yards per game. While the Mountaineer defensive front will need to stand up to good rushing, the West Virginia offense will need to throw and run the ball well to control the clock.

After all, these are the types of games that come down to time of possession and which team can do more with the same opportunity of four downs and 60 minutes of football.

Photo by Ethan Bock

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