After finishing 3-8 last year, Western Illinois hired former Minnesota Duluth coach Bob Nielson and is off to a 2-0 start.
11 a.m., TCF Bank Stadium • TV: BTN • Radio: 100.3 FM
Line: Gophers by 24 • Series: First meeting
Gophers offense vs. Leathernecks defense
With wins over Hampton and Division II Quincy, Western Illinois leads the nation with a plus-10 turnover margin. The Gophers have a plus-1 turnover margin. Philip Nelson has thrown one interception in each game, but otherwise the team has protected the ball. The Gophers rely heavily on the run, but Nelson should have more opportunities through the air this time. Advantage: Gophers
Leathernecks offense vs. Gophers defense
Gophers coach Jerry Kill said Western Illinois’ offense reminds him of Iowa’s. Nielson wants his teams to run the ball, and the Leathernecks have averaged 45 rushing attempts and 30.5 passing attempts per game. Redshirt freshman quarterback Trenton Norvell completed 24 of 34 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns last week against Quincy. Advantage: Gophers
The Gophers have scored three special teams TDs, including a 98-yard-kickoff return and a 65-yard punt return from Marcus Jones. Chris Hawthorne is 4-for-5 on field goal attempts, with his lone miss coming from 50 yards. Western Illinois kicker Nathan Knuffman is 0-for-3 on FG attempts. Advantage: Gophers
With the early kickoff and an unheralded opponent, the Gophers will need to do their part to energize the crowd. For Western Illinois, this week and next week’s game at UNLV are chances to prove themselves before playing FCS opponents the rest of the way. Advantage: Leathernecks
The Gophers defense picks the right day to have its best game of the young season. Minnesota’s offense finds it surprisingly hard to move the ball early, and Western Illinois takes advantage of two turnovers before the Gophers pull away in the second half.
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