North Dakota State 37 … at Minnesota 24
Posted Sep 24, 2011

Week 4 CFN Fearless Prediction & Game Story - North Dakota State at Minnesota

2011 Predictions & Game Story 

Week 4 - NDSU at Minnesota

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Sept. 24 North Dakota State 37 … at Minnesota 24
CFN Analysis: It's not like the Gophers didn't have their chances, but they couldn't make the most of the opportunities. From interceptions to missed defensive plays to allow NDSU to keep drives alive, this was a sloppy, uneven game that raises even more questions. Why isn't MarQueis Gray able to get the offense moving? Is it time to turn to Max Shortell full-time? Where's the defense on third downs? NDSU converted 6-of-9 chances, and while Minnesota converted 9-of-14 third down tries, the Gophers spent too much time chasing. The linebackers aren't playing well enough to handle Denard Robinson and Michigan next week, but the run defense has been far, far better than the secondary.

(AP) MINNEAPOLIS -- When North Dakota State comes to Minnesota, the Bison make themselves at home.

The Gophers just keep playing the role of the far-too-gracious host.

Marcus Williams had two defensive touchdowns for North Dakota State, including a wild play at the end of the first half on Saturday, to help an FCS team pull off yet another win at Minnesota, 37-24.

"Coach outcoached me, their team outplayed us and they deserved to win the game," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said, adding: "I feel bad for our students. I feel bad for the state of Minnesota. I feel bad for our fans, and I feel bad for our kids."

Williams, a sophomore cornerback who played at Hopkins High School in the Twin Cities -- one of the dozens of Minnesotans who make up half of NDSU's roster -- returned an interception of Max Shortell's late heave 40 yards for a touchdown to seal the game.

On the final play of the first half, teammate Colten Heagle picked off MarQueis Gray's risky pass at the 18 and tossed the ball back to Williams as he was taken down near midfield. Williams raced 52 more yards to put the Bison (3-0) ahead 28-14 at the break.

"It was pretty emotional, really, being from here and going up against the home state," Williams said. "People thinking I wasn't good enough to play here, probably wasn't going to play D-I ball at all."

Donnell Kirkwood rushed 10 times for 70 yards and two touchdowns for the Gophers (1-3), but once again, it was difficult to determine which team was from the BCS conference -- and who was playing at home.

"Our players had a great deal of confidence coming in," said Bison coach Craig Bohl, whose team is 5-3 against FBS foes since moving up from Division II. "If we played well, we'd win."

NDSU scored touchdowns on drives of 65, 83 and 71 yards in the first half before the tag-team touchdown by Heagle and Williams as time expired. Minnesota's spirit disappeared, too.

"It was depleted. It was devastated. It's a different ballgame if that doesn't happen," safety Kim Royston said.

Even when the Bison finally faced their first fourth down, with 6:25 left in the third quarter, Ryan Jastram kicked a 49-yard field goal with room to spare to stretch the lead to 31-14.

D.J. McNorton rushed 13 times for 92 yards for NDSU, and Brock Jensen completed 16 of 21 passes for 197 yards -- plus 37 yards rushing and a score on six scrambles.

"NDSU's a great team. Their quarterback's a good player. But it comes down to what we do. Whatever they got, we gave to 'em, as far as I'm concerned," said Royston.

The Gophers, who gave the Bison three first downs via penalties on their first two possessions, rushed for 168 yards -- including a 10-play, 95-yard march, all on the ground, to tie the game at 14.

"The holes were there. It's not like I had to fight for anything. The first five yards were coming easy," Kirkwood said.

But the Bison played with more polish and seemed to have their game plan a step ahead of Minnesota's the entire game.

The Gophers rotated Gray and Shortell at quarterback, and they didn't have any rhythm when they needed it at the end. Shortell found tight end Eric Lair for a 20-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-7 to bring the Gophers within 31-24 with 9:05 left, but they couldn't get any momentum after that.

Gray was 5 for 12 for 53 yards passing and netted just 23 yards rushing on 13 attempts. Shortell went 4 for 8 for 71 yards. Kill said he wasn't sure yet how he'd manage that position moving forward.

"I ain't blaming nobody else, baby. That's me," Kill said. "I'm putting way too much on these kids. You'd like to be able to just hand the ball off and let 'em learn to play quarterback, but we're not in that situation right now."

For the Gophers, struggling against an FCS foe in front of their own fans is nothing new, though it's not any less humbling and frustrating for a school with an athletics department budget about five times as big as NDSU's.

Minnesota lost to South Dakota last year. The Gophers barely beat South Dakota State in a three-point game the season before that. Two weeks ago, they lost at home to New Mexico State, an FBS team but frequently one of the weakest in the NCAA's top tier.

This was the third time Minnesota had played North Dakota State in the last five years, and this game was every bit as difficult for the Gophers as the meetings in 2006 and 2007. Minnesota needed a blocked field goal as time ran out to preserve a 10-9 victory the first year and lost 27-21 to NDSU the following season.

Bison fans accounted for perhaps one-fourth of the 48,000-plus crowd, and NDSU even brought its full band.

North Dakota State (2-0) at Minnesota (1-2) Sept. 24, 7:00, BTN

Here's The Deal … Minnesota tends to have problems with all things Dakota.

Last year, the Gophers gagged 41-38 against South Dakota. In 2009, they needed everything in the bag to get by South Dakota State 16-13, lost to North Dakota State 27-21 in 2007, and beat NDSU 10-9 in a fantastic battle in 2006.

Expect yet another great game against a Dakota.

North Dakota State is expected to be just a middle of the pack Missouri Valley team, but it made the playoffs last year and started out the season red hot beating Lafayette and St. Francis by a combined score of 98-9. The Bison beat Kansas last year and couldn't be playing at a higher level now. It also helped that Minnesota has been struggling.

Any team that can lose at home to New Mexico State can lose to an FCS team. Minnesota started out the season playing well against USC in a road loss, stunk against NMSU, and last week finally gave head coach Jerry Kill his first win in his new gig with a 29-23 victory over Miami University. Next week comes a trip to Michigan followed up by a date at Purdue, but the Gophers need to be 100% fully focused this week.

Why North Dakota State Might Win: The Minnesota secondary has been awful. Matt Barkley and Robert Woods had record-setting days for USC, Miami was able to move the ball with 325 passing yards, and New Mexico State - New Mexico State - was able to throw for 288 yards and three scores. The lack of a pass rush has been the biggest problem with just one sack in the first three games, and while NDSU is more of a running team, it's No. 4 in the FCS so far in pass efficiency and should be able to move the ball effectively if the Gophers can't get into the backfield

On the defensive side, the Bison aren't having any problems getting to the quarterback with a whopping ten sacks and 22 tackles for loss in two games. Minnesota has mobility in the backfield in quarterback MarQueis Gray, but the offense hasn't been air tight at keeping quick defensive players from doing bad things behind the line.

Why Minnesota Might Win: Don't get too caught up in North Dakota State's stats so far. St. Francis has one of the worst defenses in the FCS and Lafayette has problems offensively. The Bison might be aggressive up front, but Minnesota's raw bulk should be enough to pound away with the running game when it has to. Against Miami, the Gopher O helped a struggling D by holding on to the ball for 35 minutes as Gray ran for 171 yards and Donnell Kirkwood had an effective 55 yards. The Gophers should be able to hang on to the ball and control the clock.

Field position should be a plus for the Gophers thanks to punter Dan Orseske, who's coming off a strong day against MU averaging 46 yards per kick. Rock steady, he's been getting the Gophers out of jams all season long, and he should give the Bison plenty of long fields to work with.

What To Watch Out For: Gray has been awesome after a rough start against USC, leading the team with 328 rushing yards. Now he needs more help, and it has to come from Donnell Kirkwood, who has only come up with 90 yards and a touchdown so far on 31 carries. The 5-10, 215-pound redshirt freshman has star power, and now he's 100% back from a bad leg injury last year. Senior Duane Bennett is also back from injury, having knee problems in the past, but he only has 31 carries so far for 90 yards and a score. The 5-9, 210-pounder has workload potential, and soon he has to show it.

What Will Happen: North Dakota State will come up with a hot first half and Minnesota will have to scramble. The Gopher defense will settle down, and Gray will go off, running for 200 yards and scoring two times, while getting the passing game moving in the second half. Da'Jon McKnight will go off with several big catches including the game-winner to cap off a thrilling dogfight.

CFN Prediction: Minnesota 34 … North Dakota State 31
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