Minnesota (1-1) vs Kent State (1-1)
Time: 11 a.m. CT, Saturday, September 19th
TV: BTN - Anthony LaPanta (play-by-play), Stanley Jackson (color) and Jamie Hersch (sideline)
Last week: Minnesota defeated Colorado State 23-20; Kent State defeated Delaware State 45-13
All-time series: Gophers lead the series 1-0 (44-0 Minnesota in the Metrodome in 2006)
Vegas betting line: Minnesota (-24)
Know Your Enemy: Five questions with Kent State beat writer Stephen Means
Five things you need to know
1) Minnesota hosts Kent State on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers and Golden Flashes have met once previously and that was on Aug. 31, 2006, when Minnesota won 44-0 at Kent State. Current Gopher linebacker coach Mike Sherels made seven tackles in the game and recovered one fumble and current recruiting assistant Dom Barber made six tackles in the win. The 44-0 win was the last time that a Minnesota team shutout an opponent on the road and is also the Gophers’ second most recent shutout. Minnesota’s last shutout was a 62-0 win against Temple a few weeks later on Sept. 16, 2006. Kent State is the first of three teams from Ohio that Minnesota will play this year, as they also play Ohio on Sept. 26 and travel to No. 1 Ohio State on Nov. 7. Minnesota is also in the midst of playing three home games against teams from Ohio, as they hosted Ohio State in its final home game last season on Nov. 15, 2014, and now host Kent State on Saturday and Ohio a week from Saturday. Minnesota hosted No. 2 TCU between its Ohio opponents.
2) Minnesota's first two opponents this year (TCU and Colorado State) combined for a 22-4 record last season. That mark for wins is the most that any team faced in its first two games of the 2015 season. Only five other schools (Arkansas State, BYU, Michigan State, Oregon and Tulane) opened their season against two opponents who combined for 20 wins last year. Including last season, Minnesota’s last six opponents - Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Missouri, TCU and Colorado State - combined for a 67-15 record last year. Minnesota was 2-4 in that span, but was competitive in every game. The Gophers won at Nebraska and Colorado State and lost to TCU by six, Ohio State by seven, Wisconsin by 10 and to Missouri by 16. Colorado State was the first non-ranked foe Minnesota faced since Nov. 8, 2014 (beat Iowa 51-14).
3) Quarterback Mitch Leidner has not thrown an interception in his last 153 passing attempts. His last interception came in the fourth quarter against Ohio State on Nov. 11, 2014. Since then he has completed 79 passes for 946 yards (11.97 yards-per-completion) and four touchdowns. Leidner’s streak of 153 passes is believed to be the third-longest active streak in the nation behind West Virginia’s Skyler Howard who has not tossed an interception in 161 attempts spanning 18 quarters. Troy’s Brandon Silvers is second at 155 attempts.
4) KJ Maye (16 catches for 298 yards and one touchdown), Drew Wolitarsky (10 catches for 106 yards) and Eric Carter (1 catch for 4 yards) combined to catch 27 balls for 408 yards and one touchdown last year. Through two games this year, they have caught 29 balls for 345 yards and three touchdowns. Wolitarsky has 12 catches for 161 yards and one touchdown, while Maye has 10 reception for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Carter has 57 yards on seven catches.
5) Minnesota is the only team scheduled to play both No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 TCU (L, 23-17 on Sept. 3) in the regular season (TCU ranking at time of game). The last time Minnesota played the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the same year was 1986. Minnesota lost 63-0 at No. 1 Oklahoma, but then won 20-17 at No. 2 Michigan.
Kent State players to watch
1) April Goth, kicker: Kent State made history when senior kicker April Goss became only the second woman to score in a major college football game in last week's victory over Delaware State.
2) Nate Holley, safety: One of 42 defensive backs on preseason Jim Thorpe Award Watch List and Projected by College Sports Madness to be MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Has nine tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and an interception through the first two games.
3) Nate Terhune, defensive line: Named to both Athlon and Phil Steele's Preseason All-MAC Fourth Team and College Sports Madness Preseason All-MAC Third Team. Has 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack in the Golden Flashes first two games.
Keys to the game
1. Quick start: Nothing demoralizes an opponent more than a quick start by the home team in the first quarter. If the Gophers can start fast, which has been a definite point of emphasis for offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover this week, Minnesota could dash any hopes the Golden Flashes have of pulling an upset on the Gophers. Getting quarterback Mitch Leidner into a rhythm early in the short to intermediate game is key, as well as getting stud freshman running Rodney Smith going on the ground. If Minnesota can get out to a 14-0 or 14-3 start by the end of the first quarter, they should be able to put the game away.
2. Big plays: Minnesota hasn't had plays over 40 yards yet this season, and I think that changes on Saturday. I have a feeling that either Rodney Smith finally busts a long run or that Leidner and his receivers get on the same page for a play action deep ball for a score. The defense has done a great job as well containing big plays and they didn't allow a play over 50 yards through the Gophers first two games.
3. Staying healthy: This may be the biggest key of all and the one that matters most to me besides a victory on Saturday. Minnesota has already started to see the injury bug bite again this season with five projected starters out in the Gophers third game of the year. If Minnesota can get a victory and not lose any more players to injury, it's definitely a win-win for the Golden Gophers.
Coming off a two win-season last year, the Golden Flashes lost a lot of close games last year and return both their starting quarterback and running back, but this is the same team that lost 52-3 against Illinois to open the season. Minnesota is dealing with some injuries, but this still is a Jerry Kill coached team and there's just too much talent when you compare the two teams to think that Minnesota really lays an egg on Saturday. Wouldn't be surprised to see the game close at halftime and then the Golden Gophers pull away for an easy victory toward the end.