The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 25th, 8:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: TCF Bank Stadium (50,805) -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: NIU 1-0, Minnesota 0-2. Away Record: NIU 0-2, Minnesota 1-0. Neutral Record: NIU 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Conference Record: NIU 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 2-0.
Northern Illinois is coming off a tough 28-22 loss at intrastate rival Illinois last weekend. This will be the second leg of a three-game road swing for the Huskies. They've lost both of their road games on the season.
Conversely, Minnesota has lost each of its home games thus far. The Gophers were a three-point victim at home to South Dakota two weeks ago, and last week they fell to 20th-ranked USC, 32-21. This is the third of four straight home games on Minnesota's schedule.
This marks the third all-time meeting between these two schools. Minnesota won both prior meetings, the most recent of which was two seasons ago.
Northern Illinois has relied heavily on the run game, which currently ranks 21st in the nation with an average of 228 yards per game. A lot of that is due to the athletic ability of quarterback Chandler Harnish, who ran for 117 yards and a score on 11 carries last week at Illinois. He is averaging 98.3 ypg on the ground. Harnish also showed some progress in the passing game, completing a season-best 19-of-25 passes for 208 yards. Landon Cox hauled in six passes for 74 yards and a score.
The Huskies offense is still a work in progress, averaging 18.3 ppg through three games. That has put some extra pressure on the defense, which has allowed 24 ppg. Last week, they had some trouble with the Illinois rushing attack as Mikel Leshoure gashed the Huskies for 180 yards and a touchdown, while UI quarterback Nathan Scheelhaasse ran for 115 yards and a score. NIU allowed only 70 passing yards, but Scheelhaasse attempted only 16 passes as the Fighting Illini focused their attack on the ground.
Minnesota senior quarterback has been a starter for the past three-plus seasons, and last week against USC he set a school record for career touchdown passes (57). Statistically, he didn't have his best day, completing only 15- of-29 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. However, he did lead the Gophers on an early touchdown drive and kept his team in contention for four quarters. USC was able to bottle up Minnesota's run game to 83 yards on 37 combined carries (2.2 ypc). That put Weber and the offense in several third- and-long situations. Look for coach Tim Brewster to focus on getting the ball back into the hands of running back Duane Bennett, who has run for 291 yards and two scores through the first two games.
The Golden Gophers are creating a lot of turnovers on defense, although they are also giving up points in bunches. Opponents are scoring 30.0 ppg through three contests against Minnesota. A lot of that has to do with inexperience, as only two of last year's starters -- safeties Kim Royston and Kyle Theret -- are on the roster. And neither played in the first two games. Royston is rehabbing from a broken leg in spring ball, while Theret was serving a suspension for the first two games and notched an interception in his debut last week. Still, even with so many new faces, the Gophers are tied for ninth in the nation with five interceptions through three games. They had only 12 picks all of last year.
Minnesota has had to come from behind in each of its last seven victories. While that may not be an ideal way to get by on a week-to-week basis, it shows that Brewster's Gophers know how to fight back when their backs are against the wall.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Minnesota 31, Northern Illinois 27