Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Minnesota will rely on massive offensive line against WVU in Guaranteed Rate Bowl

MORGANTOWN — When thinking of Big Ten football, Minnesota, WVU’s opponent in Tuesday’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix, checks a lot of the boxes.

The Golden Gophers (8-4) feature a stout defense, one of the best in the conference, but offensively, they want to run the ball and use their strength to push opponents around, and it all starts up front along the offensive line.

Perhaps one of the biggest units in the nation, every member of the Minnesota offensive front is at least 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds. On average, the starting five is 6-foot-6 and 334 pounds.

The group is led by left tackle Daniel Faalele, who is a massive 6-foot-9 and 380 pounds, but all five starters are seniors and earned some of sort of Big Ten postseason honor.

“They are very big up front,” WVU nose tackle Akheem Mesidor said. “Their offensive line is the strongest point of their offense. They have four o-linemen who have invites to senior bowls, so we know they are going to try to pound the ball.”

As big and experienced as the offensive line is, though, the Golden Gophers have dealt with a wide range of injuries to their backfield. Trey Potts, Bryce Williams and Mohamed Ibrahim started the year as the main options, but after season-ending injuries, Minnesota moved to Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas, both freshmen, to lead the rushing attack.

Irving and Thomas combined for 1,250 yards and nine touchdowns.

“They’ve ran the ball against everybody they’ve played, and I think that’s a testament to the offensive line,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “They’re big at tight end — they’re ph

ysical, and they’ve lost several running backs as they’ve gone through the season. I think they probably have at minimum three NFL players on their offensive line.”

Quarterback Tanner Morgan has broken records during his time at Minnesota, including winning percentage (.684), pass efficiency rating (151.43) and completion percentage (61.3%).

“He’s a guy that’s played a ton of football, and he’s won a lot of games,” Brown said. “If you look back at his career at Minnesota, he’s played extremely, extremely well. He’s somebody I’m really familiar with that I’ve been watching from afar, cheering for him. He’s from Hazard (Ky.), right across the border, and finished his high school career up at northern Kentucky at Ryle High School. He came to our youth camp at the University of Kentucky, and so, really happy for him that he’s progressed and playing at a high level.”