The Bison dominated the Gophers in every way possible except the final score, falling 10-9 after the Gophers blocked a field-goal attempt as time expired. If the Gophers were looking past the Bison in that game, they shouldn't have the same issue this time.
North Dakota State is undefeated at 6-0 and ranked No. 1 in the former I-AA. Meanwhile, the Gophers are 1-6, have lost five straight games and are coming off a 49-48 double-overtime loss at Northwestern in which they blew a 21-point second-half lead.
"It was brutal," Gophers coach Tim Brewster said of the loss. "Absolutely brutal. Brutal. Like a knife had cut the guts right out of your stomach."
Bison fans are revved up for the meeting because the Bison are still transitioning to Division I and not eligible for the postseason this season. They view this game as their bowl game.
The Bison and their fans also are ticked over comments Brewster made this summer when he questioned whether his team should be playing a I-AA opponent. Brewster said those matchups do not help recruiting efforts, so he doesn't see the point.
"I have not said one thing negative about North Dakota State," he said. "The only thing I was saying is that, for me to build a championship program at Minnesota, I'd like to play a non-conference schedule that would help me with recruiting."
A loss certainly won't help, and many believe that's possible. The Bison have a talented quarterback in Steve Walker and an offense that averages 41.2 points per game.
It will be a another difficult assignment for a Minnesota team that ranks last nationally in total defense and pass defense, and 114th in scoring defense.
The Bison defense has had problems against spread offenses, so the Gophers should be able to move the ball and put up points. Quarterback Adam Weber is starting to click with receivers Eric Decker and Ernie Wheelwright, and the Gophers believe they can make plays down the field.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know about the little guys in green coming to Minnesota, ... a lot of the psycho-drama that [the media] loves to play out. Well, you know what? We're going to be ready to play." — Gophers coach Tim Brewster on playing Division I-AA North Dakota State this week.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: North Dakota State at Minnesota, Oct. 20 — The Gophers take a break from their Big Ten schedule to play a regional I-AA opponent. The Bison nearly pulled off a shocking upset last season before losing 10-9. It would not be shocking or perhaps even qualify as an upset if NDSU, ranked No. 1 in I-AA, wins the matchup this year.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Freshman quarterback Adam Weber had his best game last week with 430 total yards, five touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown. Senior receiver Ernie Wheelwright is finally living up to his potential. He also is coming off a career game in which he caught seven passes for 116 yards and three touchdowns.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Where to start? It goes from bad to worse by the week. The Gophers rank last in Division I-A in total defense and pass defense and 114th in scoring defense. They gave up 589 total yards last week, incuding 470 passing yards to C.J. Bacher. And now they have injury concerns, notably with defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg, who is playing with a broken hand and shoulder injury.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR Ernie Wheelwright — He had the best game of his roller-coaster career against Northwestern. He caught seven passes for 116 yards and three touchdowns, including a diving, 21-yard touchdown in the endzone with two seconds left before halftime. He will be a tough matchup for the Bison cornerbacks.
QB Adam Weber — The redshirt freshman passed for 341 yards and five touchdowns and also rushed for 89 yards and one touchdown last week. He needs to eliminate turnovers — he already has 14 interceptions — but he looks more comfortable every week.
SS Dominique Barber — He's easily the best player on a bad defense. Coach Tim Brewster said he shudders to think how bad his defense would be without Barber, who ranks sixth in the Big Ten in tackles.
ROSTER REPORT: Senior tailback Amir Pinnix already is battling a turf-toe injury and now has a pulled quadriceps muscle. He is day to day.
Senior safety Duran Cooley, a backup, suffered a knee injury covering a kickoff and might miss the rest of the season. True freshman Kyle Theret will start in his place.
Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg (shoulder) will not start for the second-consecutive week. Lee Campbell will move to right end, and junior-college transfer Derrick Onwuachi start at left end.