The Minnesota Golden Gophers are on the road for the final time in the 2011 season Saturday for a Big Ten Conference matchup at Northwestern. The game is scheduled for an 11:01 a.m. CT kickoff at Ryan Field. Three of the last four matchups between the Wildcats and Gophers have gone down to the wire, being decided by one score. Northwestern has won three of the last four by a total of nine points. The Gophers' victory in that stretch was a 35-24 decision in 2009 on the road.
Minnesota is coming off a tough, 42-13 defeat at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers. The Gophers are now 2-8 overall and 1-5 in Big Ten play. Northwestern enters Saturday's game with a 5-5 overall mark and a 2-4 record in the Big Ten. The Wildcats need one win in their last two outings to be bowl eligible.
The Big Ten Network will televise Saturday's game. Wayne Larrivee will call the play-by-play action, while former Gopher head coach Glen Mason will be the analyst. Jon Jansen will report from the sidelines.
SCOUTING NORTHWESTERN Minnesota faces Northwestern for the 87th time Saturday. The Gophers lead the all-time series 50-31-5.
Northwestern is coached by Pat Fitzgerald, who is in his sixth season as the head man and his 11th overall in Evanston. Fitzgerald is a 2008 inductee in the College Football Hall of Fame, after an outstanding playing career with the Wildcats. He has guided Northwestern to three consecutive bowl berths, a school record. The Touchdown Club of Columbus named him Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2008.
The Wildcats boast a balanced offensive attack. Northwestern is ranked No. 36 in the nation in both rushing and passing offense. The Wildcats are averaging 30.9 points per game. Defensively, Northwestern ranks No. 83 in total defense, allowing more than 400 yards per game. The Wildcats are allowing an average of 28.3 points per game to rank No. 70 in the nation.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS Duane Bennett's 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the second kickoff return for a score this season by the Gophers. Marcus Jones returned a kickoff 92 yards at Purdue earlier this season. It is the first time Minnesota has had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in the same season since 1997. Tutu Atwell returned a pair of kickoffs for scores on Sept. 13, 1997 vs. Iowa State to mark the last time the Gophers had two kick return scores in the same season.
TOUCH OF GRAY MarQueis Gray set a school single-game record for rushing by a quarterback vs. Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 17 with 171 yards. He is on pace to challenge for the school single-season record as well. The Miami performance was his second consecutive week with 100 yards rushing. The last Minnesota QB to rush for 100+ in back-to-back games was Billy Cockerham in 1999. Gray passed for 211 yards and rushed for 110 more vs. New Mexico State, the first time a Gopher passed and rushed for 100+ since Cockerham did it vs. Iowa in 1999. Gray is No. 8 in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 71 yards per game. At that pace, he would fall just 50 yards short of the Minnesota single-season rushing record for a quarterback (see chart at left).
BENNETT APPROACHING 2,000 Running back Duane Bennett has cracked Minnesota's all-time career top 15 for rushing yardage. He has rushed for 1,955 yards in his career. He is in the No. 15 spot on the career chart. He needs just 45 yards to become just the 13th Gopher ever to rush for 2,000 career yards.
G.T. OH! Senior linebacker Gary Tinsley leads the Gopher linebacking corps with 72 total tackles so far this season. He ranks No. 2 on the team in total tackles. Tinsley has 183 tackles to his credit for his Gopher career. He turned in one of top performances of his career last week vs. Wisconsin. Tinsley recorded 12 stops vs. the Badgers, including three tackles for loss and a sack. He now leads the team in tackles for loss (8.0) and sacks (3.0).
KIM-POSSIBLE Senior safety Kim Royston wasn't even supposed to be on the 2011 version of the Gopher football team. He thought his career might be over when he suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his lower leg. His initial recovery went well enough that many thought he would play in 2010. But a setback in recovery derailed his senior season. However, the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility.