North Dakota State junior Tyler Roehl made his coach's decision to move him from fullback to tailback look like a stroke of genius.
When junior Tyler Roehl was told he had set North Dakota State's single-game rushing record, he tilted his head back, gazed up and blinked his eyes in disbelief and said, "Wow."
That's what some of the announced 63,008 fans -- the largest attendance for a Gophers game this season -- thought as they watched the bruising runner rack up 263 yards on the ground at the Metrodome on Saturday. As a player on a team in what the NCAA calls its Football Championship Subdivision, Roehl said setting a record in a 27-21 victory against a Big Ten opponent felt even better.
"You know, it all started up front with the [offensive] line; they've been great all year," he said after North Dakota State improved to 7-0. "Everyone has been blocking so hard for me."
His last name is pronounced "roll," and that's exactly what No. 40 was on, beginning with a 77-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. It was one of his 22 carries.
His deceptive speed and power cost the Gophers defense, which gave up 394 rushing yards. Wisconsin's Anthony Davis was the last running back to rack up more than 250 yards on the ground against the Gophers, when he ran for 301 yards in 2002.
Play after play, the 5-10, 233-pound Roehl would emerge from a pack of would-be tacklers and gain extra yards, as Bison fans roared and Gophers fans sighed.
"I just hit the creases and took the ball downfield," he said.
North Dakota State was the top-ranked team in the NCAA's subdivision previously known as Division I-AA. That subdivision earned clout earlier this season when Appalachian State won at No. 5 Michigan 34-32 on Sept. 1.
Gophers safety Dominique Barber credited Roehl with wearing down Minnesota's defense.
"They ran it down our throat," said Barber, who recovered Roehl's second-quarter fumble. "[Roehl] was probably one of the most physical backs I've ever seen."
Roehl, from West Fargo, N.D., credited his teammates with key downfield blocks, which helped him expose a Gophers defense that had given up 162.7 rushing yards per game going into Saturday.
Bison coach Craig Bohl said some questioned his decision to move Roehl from fullback to tailback this season because of his speed. But Roehl's quickness is what helped him elude two tackles and win a 77-yard foot race against the Gophers' defensive backfield for his only score.
"Tyler Roehl played a great football game," Bohl said. "A lot of people doubted whether we should move him from fullback to tailback. They didn't think he had the speed."
Myron P. Medcalf firstname.lastname@example.org
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