Western Michigan (1-1) at Minnesota (2-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 15, 12:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: TCF Bank Stadium (50,805) -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: WMU 0-0, Minnesota 1-0. Away Record: WMU 0-0, Minnesota 1-0. Neutral Record: WMU 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Conference Record: WMU 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 3-0.
GAME NOTES: The Western Michigan Broncos hope to ride their momentum to a road win as they take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a non-conference battle at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Broncos bounced back from their season-opening loss to their first Big Ten opponent, Illinois, with a 52-21 victory over Eastern Illinois of the FCS last time out. Western Michigan's defense was strong in both games, as its new 3-3-5 defensive scheme implemented by first-year coordinator Rich Nagy has caught on. The Broncos could not get it going against Illinois, but they erupted and gained 631 total yards against Eastern Illinois. WMU has lost its last eight games versus Big Ten opponents. Head coach Bill Cubit is now in his eighth season at the helm of the program and has a 48-40 record during that span.
The Golden Gophers have jumped out to a 2-0 start with a 30-27 triple-overtime victory at UNLV and ended a two-game losing streak versus FCS opponents with a decisive, 44-7, win over New Hampshire. A victory here for Minnesota would equal as many wins as the team had each of the past two seasons. Head coach Jerry Kill has led the team to three straight victories to improve his record at Minnesota to 6-9. The Gophers' great start to 2012 comes after finishing last season with a 3-9 overall record, including a 2-6 mark versus Big Ten competition.
Minnesota is 3-0 all-time against WMU, but the programs have not met since 1977. Coach Jerry Kill is quite familiar with the Broncos as he spent three seasons coaching MAC rival Northern Illinois prior to his move to Minnesota. The last team from the MAC to defeat the Gophers was a Kill-led Northern Illinois Huskies squad in 2010.
Western Michigan's impressive ability to rack up 631 yards in a single game starts with its elite senior signal caller. Alex Carder was unstoppable at times last season and threw for 400 passing yards on five separate occasions, including his program record 548-yard showing versus Toledo. Carder guided the offense by completing 29-of-40 passes for 364 yards and five touchdowns in the win over Eastern Illinois after he struggled to get it going in the season opener versus the Fighting Illini.
While Carder got into a groove in week two, freshman wideout Jaime Wilson had a breakout performance with 154 receiving yards and two scores on 11 catches. Wilson was the first freshman receiver to have over 100 yards in a game for WMU since Steve Neal in 1997. Tight end Blake Hammond was also highly productive with 94 yards and two touchdowns on six catches.
WMU compiled 239 rushing yards as four different backs saw considerable action. The Broncos should have a greater focus on ball security after putting the ball on the turf three times versus EIU.
The Broncos' new and improved defense is leading the MAC in pass defense (188.5 yards per game) and ranks in the top four in rushing defense (107.5 ypg), scoring defense (22.5 ppg), and total defense (296.0 ypg).
Lewis Toler showed he is capable of game-breaking plays defensively by recording two interceptions against EIU. The dangerous defensive linemen duo of Paul Hazel and Deauntay Legreir registered two sacks each in the same contest.
The Western Michigan defensive unit will have its hands full as it tries to contain Minnesota's dual-threat quarterback. MarQueis Gray has great size, strength, and speed which has helped him accumulate six total touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) already this season.
Gray's critics feel he is not a great passer and his decision-making can be questionable. However, the senior has showed great composure and passing accuracy so far this season. Gray came up clutch with two passes for scores in overtime periods versus UNLV.
Wide Receiver A.J. Barker and tight end John Rabe are tied for the team lead with five receptions each. Barker has produced 130 yards and a score, while Rabe has racked up 73 yards and three scores.
Donnell Kirkwood is the second leading rusher behind Gray. The sophomore tailback has rushed 30 times for 152 yards and a touchdown in his first two collegiate games.
Minnesota has shown signs of improvement on the defensive side of the ball already this season. It has given up just 20 points during regulation through two games and boasts the 12th best pass defense in the nation at a mere 139.5 yards per contest.
The Gophers have already tied last season's total with four interceptions, which ties for eighth in the national rankings. The errant throws of opposing quarterbacks have been caused in part by an aggressive pass rush.
Derrick Wells earned the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week awards after he made eight stops and two interceptions in the triple overtime affair with UNLV.
Ra'Shede Hageman leads the team with 3.0 sacks and D.L. Wilhite has 2.5 sacks already. The 2011 team leader finished last season with just four sacks.
WMU's high-powered passing offense can be nearly impossible to stop when it is in full force. Although Minnesota has a highly ranked pass defense, it has yet to face a passer as talented as Carder. The Broncos can put an end to their losing streak against Big Ten opponents if they take care of the ball. Gray's passing ability could be the difference as it faces its first true test of the season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Michigan 28, Minnesota 27
09/12 10:37:58 ET