TIME: Saturday, 6:07 p.m. (CST)
SITE: Minneapolis, Minn.
STADIUM: TCF Bank Stadium
SERIES: Minnesota leads the series with a 7-1 record. The two teams last met 2007 when the Bison bested the Gophers, 27-21, at the Metrodome.
RECORD: Minnesota (1-2, 0-0 Big Ten), North Dakota State (2-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley)
"I do know that there's not a guy on our squad that was offered a scholarship from a Big Ten school. Not one. You've got a bunch of small-town guys from small Minnesota communities." – North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl.
"Well, I've heard about it since I took the job. Shoot, I was told I wasn't good enough for the job. So, hell, I'm one of those guys. You don't think I don't compete or I don't think about that from a day to day basis? So you bet your tail end they are going to come in here and be ready to play, and they are going to play with a chip on their shoulder." – Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill on the extra motivation NDSU players have from not being recruited to play FBS football.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- The Gophers will have to be geared up to stop North Dakota State's running game. The Bison average 206.5 yards per game on the ground. After allowing 133 yards rushing against New Mexico State, the Gophers held Miami to 80 yards on the ground. While North Dakota State's numbers have come against what might be considered inferior competition, it will still be up to Minnesota's defense to play well. North Dakota State is the top-ranked scoring offense in FCS football.
-- Defensively, the Bison have been a strong squad to start the season. They group is giving up an average of 4.5 points per contest. With a confidence and swagger entering the game, the Bison will look to shut down an inconsistent Gopher offense. If NDSU wants to return to Fargo with an unbeaten record, they will need to continue to play their style of game, even if they get down early. As long as the Bison keep it close, their explosive offense will have an opportunity and drive to get the victory. If the Gophers jump out to an early lead, expect NDSU's defense to step up to keep the visiting Bison in the game.
The Bison's offense is equally as potent as their defense. They have put up 42 and 56 points in their first two games. This explosive start can be attributed to NDSU's ground-game which has averaged over 200 yards per contest. Despite a solid rushing attack, the Bison have not faced a front seven like they will go up against on Saturday. The Gophers have only given up 108 rush yards per game this season. With Minnesota sporting a much-improved run defense, NDSU will need to prove that they are also a passing team. The Bison will need to look to short passes to their quick wide receivers, a tactic that the Gophers' opponents have had success with this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
-- RB Donnell Kirkwood #20 – The Gophers may have found the down-hill, physical running back they have been missing all season. "We have got to get more physical in my opinion," Kill said. "We are not physical enough." Kirkwood showed toughness, pounding the defense 13 times for 55 yards and touchdown against Miami (Ohio)—his first game back from a hamstring injury. "We said listen, Kirkwood is healthy, let's throw him in there," Kill explained. "And he ran over a couple of safeties. I'm used to that physical-type thing. So that was a good thing."
-- S Kim Royston #3 -- After missing last season with a broken leg, he's taking advantage of his sixth year of eligibility. Royston leads the team with 30 tackles, including 22 solo stops. He will need to be active in stopping the vaunted NDSU rushing attack.
-- DE Michael Amaefula #98 – The true freshman recorded the first sack of the season for Minnesota last Saturday against Miami (Ohio). The Gophers, who were last in the nation in sacks in 2010, have been looking for someone to pressure the quarterback. The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder may be the answer.
-- RB Sam Ojuri #22 – With such a strong rushing attack for the Bison, one player to watch is running back Sam Ojuri. The 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore has had quite a start to the season, racking up 240 yards on 27 carries to go with one score. An explosive back, Ojuri has big play ability as showcased by his 95-yard run against Saint Francis. The Gophers first priority should be to slow down Ojuri and the rest of the Bison ground game.
-- WR Warren Holloway #81 – Arguably the Bison's most talented player is senior wide receiver, Warren Holloway. Holloway is a dangerous, athletic target who has been nothing short of extraordinary so far this season. The 6-foot-2 Holloway has leads the Bison with 10 catches for 220 yards and three touchdowns. The Gophers' pass defense has had difficulty with athletic receivers and will surely be tested again this Saturday.
-- LB Chad Willson #45 – One reason for NDSU's defensive dominance has been the play of senior linebacker Chad Willson. At 5-foot-11 and 220-pounds, Willson is not a physically imposing linebacker. Despite this, he has been all over the field during both of the Bison's victories this year. He is currently second on the team in tackles with nine, while leading the team with two sacks and four-and-a-half tackles for a loss. Willson will have an opportunity to make plays against the Gophers as quarterback MarQueis Gray leaves the pocket.
--LB Aaron Hill has missed all three games because of a hamstring injury, but could return in the next week or two.
--LB Brendan Beal has yet to play this season because of a knee injury. The transfer from Florida has been taking part in drills to test the knee, but hasn't returned to practice.
--OT Josh Campion sustained a concussion in fall practice and has missed all three games.
--WR A.J. Barker has missed the first three games with a hamstring injury.