The Huskers escaped last week against Northwestern, but have little time to celebrate as they hit the road for a tough matchup against Minnesota. The Gophers have gotten off to a great start as they are undefeated, going 5-0 so far this year.
Here are four Gopher players to watch:
Rodney Smith, RB
There are a lot of talented running backs in the Big Ten and Rodney Smith is one of them. After J.K. Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor, the two undisputed best in the Big Ten, Smith is third in the conference with 536 rushing yards.
It feels like Smith has been at Minnesota forever, which tends to happen when you have been around for six years.The redshirt senior only played in two games last season as he missed most of the year with an injury. Two years ago, he shredded the Husker defense to the tune of 134 yards on 24 carries.
So far this season, Smith has been nothing short of excellent as he’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry and has scored three touchdowns. Last week against Illinois, he ran for 211 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
In conference play, the Huskers have looked more susceptible to the run. They will need to nip that in the bud because that is something Smith can exploit.
Tyler Johnson, WR
While Smith has put up numbers during his time at Minnesota, senior wide receiver Tyler Johnson has been right by his side. Smith contributed more early on, but Johnson has surpassed him as the number one threat in the Minnesota offense.
Last season, Johnson broke the single-season school records in receiving yards (1,169 yards) and receiving touchdowns (12) as well as finishing second in school history with 78 catches. This record-breaking season resulted in him being named to First Team All-Big Ten.
It has been a slow start for him this season, though, which is likely caused by added attention from opposing defenses. Johnson has 350 receiving yards with four touchdowns this year, but will require a ton of attention from the Huskers’ secondary. Nebraska did a good job of limiting another star wide receiver in Laviska Shenault Jr. earlier in the season and will need to replicate that performance this game.
Rashod Bateman, WR
While Nebraska did a good job of limiting Shenault in the Colorado game, they struggled to limit No. 2 receiver K.D. Nixon, who had 148 yards on six receptions. Rashod Bateman could do that to the Huskers this time around.
Bateman has statistically been the better receiver compared to Johnson but has received less attention because of Johnson’s presence. Bateman is currently second in the Big Ten in receiving yards with 537 yards, only trailing Michigan State’s Darrell Stewart Jr., although Bateman has almost half of the receptions that Stewart has.
Johnson and Bateman are both big, physical wide receivers as they stand at 6-foot 2-inches and around 210 pounds. This could be a problem as one of them will likely line up across from 5-foot 10-inch Dicaprio Bootle. Bootle likes to play physical and will need to not back down from this battle with Bateman and Johnson despite the size disadvantage.
Antoine Winfield Jr., DB
Many probably recognize the name Antoine Winfield, and yes, this is the son of the former Minnesota Viking cornerback. Antoine Winfield Jr. has struggled throughout his career with injuries as he is in his fourth year with the program, but still on his second year of eligibility.
When he has been healthy, however, he has been a difference maker on the Gopher defense. This season, he already has two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble. He is a playmaker and the player to watch on the defense.