Coming off of a bye week after a close loss to #21 Missouri, the RedHawks (0-1) will make their first-ever visit to TCF Bank Stadium to play the Minnesota Golden Gophers (0-2) on Saturday. The ‘Hawks and Gophers have faced off twice before with Minnesota winning both contests. The most recent meeting was a 41-35 triple-overtime marathon at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in 2007.
This year’s matchup features two teams in search of their first win. While Miami suffered that tough 17-6 loss to the Tigers back in Week 1, the Gophers have also dropped some close games: 19-17 on the road against #25 USC and 28-21 at home last week to New Mexico State. Coincidently, both teams feature new head coaches who essentially traded conferences and are looking for their first wins at their new homes. Miami’s Don Treadwell is in his first head coaching gig, having come home to take the reins of his alma mater after four seasons as offensive coordinator at Michigan State. On the other sideline, Jerry Kill is in his first season at Minnesota, but this is the fifth program he has held the top spot for. In fact the RedHawks have first-hand experience dealing with his squads, as he spent the last three years at Northern Illinois. Coach Kill’s Huskies were 2-1 against Miami, with that lone loss being Miami’s dramatic 26-21 win in last December’s MAC Championship game.
For Miami to break its current 14-game road losing streak to non-conference opponents, the ‘Hawks will need to find a way to shut down Minnesota’s first-year QB Marqueis Gray. Against NMSU last week, he threw for 211 yards and rushed for 110 more, making him a dangerous dual-weapon threat, something the ‘Hawks dealt well with against Missouri’s James Franklin (129 passing yards, 72 rush yards). Gray’s top receiving target is DaJon McKnight, who has 194 yards and a TD already this year. Miami’s secondary did a great job of limiting the big plays in Week 1, and should see similar results against the receiver-thin Gophers. The real test will come in the trenches, as the Gophers like to run the ball (145.5 rush yards), and the ‘Hawks surrendered 162 yards on the ground to Missouri. Closing up the holes will be difficult though, as the ‘Hawks are thinned out by injuries: LB Ryan Kennedy and DLs Mike Johns, Na’eem Outler and Mwanza Wamuluba will miss the game. Wamulumba is likely done for the year with a torn Achilles. Additionally, DT Anthony Shoemaker will serve a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons.
On the other side of the ball, QB Zac Dysert should have ample opportunities to improve on his Week 1 stats (194 yards, INT). The Gopher defense is allowing 296 yards per game through the air, and opponents already have amassed six passing TDs. Their pass rush is almost non-existent, having yet to pick up a sack this year. That means Dysert should have ample time to find his targets and make accurate throws. That will include one of his big weapons that was absent against the Tigers, with WR Nick Harwell making his season debut having served a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons.
However, the running game will be facing another test, as the Gophers are only giving up an even 100 yards on the ground. RB Erik Finklea may have emerged as the leading candidate to be Miami’s every-down back against Missouri (71 yards, TD), but he’s going to need to continue to improve.
Both teams have struggled with their kicking games thus far this year. Miami’s Mason Krysinski shanked a PAT and a 41-yard field goal against Missouri, while Minnesota’s Chris Hawthorne has made only one of his four field goal attempts (a 21-yarder). Hopefully Krysinski was able to use the bye week to right himself and settle down in his first year kicking full-time, as his unit could easily be the difference in a low-scoring game.
One thing certain to hang over this game will in fact be Coach Kill’s health. Last week he suffered a seizure on the sideline in the closing moments of Minnesota’s loss to New Mexico State. According to Minnesota team doctor Pat Smith, Kill is in stable condition and his vitals never changed at any time, but this was actually the third time in his career he’s had a seizure during a game. Though he did not miss any games following his first two seizures, Kill’s status for Saturday remains uncertain. Smith expects Kill to make a full recovery and said the coach will be back on the sideline “sooner rather than later,” but could not say exactly when that would be. Even if Kill is unavailable against Miami, his coaching staff is almost exactly the same one that he had at Northern Illinois, giving the Gophers some familiarity with the RedHawks on the field.
Kickoff on Saturday is currently scheduled for 3:30 EST, with television coverage on the Big Ten Network.