Two passionate fanbases will be packing up and heading for a trek southwest as 8-4 Minnesota and 6-6 West Virginia are set to battle in Tuesday’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix. The Gophers ended the season on a two-game winning streak over Indiana and Wisconsin thanks to a stellar defensive effort highlighted by holding star Badgers running back Braylen Allen to just 47 yards.
West Virginia snuck into a bowl game after edging Texas and Kansas in consecutive weeks by single scores. Quarterback Jarret Doege put together one of his best games against the Longhorns, throwing for 290 yards and three touchdowns to eliminate Texas from bowl eligibility. However, WVU will be without star running back Leddie Brown after he declared for the 2022 NFL Draft.
Despite both playing football for more than 130 years, West Virginia and Minnesota have never played against each other. Both programs have won bowl games in the past two seasons, and West Virginia won the predecessor to this bowl game in 2015 over Arizona State.
Minnesota vs. West Virginia: Need to know
Weathering the storm: Minnesota had a wild season, but an unprecedented string of running back injuries played a major role. After star running back Mo Ibrahim suffered an injury in the opener against Ohio State, three other running backs cleared 100 carries because of injuries. Despite averaging just 4.2 yards per carry as a team, the Gophers still ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game. It’s not a flashy strategy, but it works.
Star-less: With Brown out for the bowl game, West Virginia does not have a single player on the roster with more than 700 yards from scrimmage. In his absence, the Mountaineers will lean heavily on sophomore Tony Mathis. The Floridian rushed for 256 yards on 59 carries in 2021, including 118 yards in a 34-28 win over Kansas. More will also fall on Doege’s shoulders, which has been a troublesome situation for the experienced signal-caller.
Solid defense: Minnesota isn’t spectacular defensively, but the Gophers have held 11 straight opponents to fewer than 30 points since losing to Ohio State. Minnesota lost two games in which the defense gave up just 14 points, and it ranks No. 12 in defensive success rate. The Gophers are especially good at forcing difficult third-down situations thanks to a strong season from disruptive rusher Boye Mafe, who posted nine tackles for loss and six sacks in 12 games.
How to watch Guaranteed Rate Bowl live
Game: Guaranteed Rate BowlDate: Tuesday, Dec. 28 | Time: 10:15 p.m. ETLocation: Chase Field — PhoenixTV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Guaranteed Rate Bowl prediction, picks
Minnesota makes a living getting teams into disadvantageous offensive positions, and West Virginia will play right into the Gophers’ hands without Brown in the lineup. Expect UM running backs to do just enough to keep WVU’s defense on its toes in a low-scoring affair. Prediction: Minnesota (-4.5)
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