DATE: September 25, 2010
TIME: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. (CST)
SITE: Minneapolis, Minn.
STADIUM: TCF Bank Stadium
SERIES: Minnesota leads this short series with a 2-0 record. The Golden Gophers won the first matchup of the series 31-20 which was played on Sept. 24, 1988. They earned a narrow 31-27 win over the Huskies in the 2008 season opener.
RECORD: Minnesota (1-2, 0-0 Big Ten), Northern Illinois (1-2, 0-0 MAC)
PREDICTION: Minnesota 27 - 17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- The running game must get back on track for the Golden Gophers. They found little room to run against a physical Trojan defense that held Minnesota to only 83 yards on 37 carries. Due to an ankle injury, Duane Bennett missed the entire second half of last game been excellent and only carried the ball seven times for six yards. Bennett should be healthy this week, which should give the backfield a boost. If Bennett isn't completely healthy continues to be ineffective look for Donnell Kirkwood to get more carries. Coach Brewster praised the freshmen after his 10 carry, 40-yard performance last game saying, "I thought he really did some nice things in the SC game. He challenged USC as a true freshman running the football. I was really excited about his attitude running the ball. I think he's going to do nothing but get better."
Defensively, Minnesota will need to tackle well and hit quarterback Chandler Harnish early and often. Minnesota's pass rush this season has been anemic tallying only two sacks in the first three games and the Huskies have excelled at protecting the quarterback ranking 16th in the nation is sacks allowed. It is imperative for Minnesota to get pressure on the dynamic Huskies quarterback, and keep him from breaking containment for long gains. The last dual threat quarterback the Gophers faced, Dante Warren of South Dakota, single handily destroyed the Minnesota defense for 433 yards of total offense and five touchdowns.
Coach Brewster is confident the Gophers won't have a repeat performance of the USD game. "We'll change some things," Brewster said. "We'll change some things based on some of the things that happened against South Dakota. Our guys have really I think put together a really nice plan for this week. We'll do some things that we did against South Dakota. Certainly just want to do them better. But we certainly studied that game and saw some things that we could have done differently and will do differently on Saturday night."
-- On defense, the key for the Huskies will be to get pressure on Adam Weber and force him to make poor decisions with the football. Weber is having his most efficient season passing as a quarterback with 144.92 rating. He has five touchdown passes on the season and only two interceptions. Minnesota will continue to grind out yards running the ball so if Northern Illinois can stop Weber from converting through the air in critical situations they will have a chance.
Offensively, Northern Illinois will need to make plays down field in the passing game, which they have struggled to do thus far ranking, 109th in the NCAA in passing yards with only 150.0 yards per game. Minnesota will most likely focus on stopping the Northern Illinois rushing attack so if the Huskies come out early with play-action pass plays, they could catch the defense off balance.
Keys to the Game: NIU vs Minnesota
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