The Gophers have problems on defense. And they have to be a little stunned by the final play of the half, too.
North Dakota State went on long scoring drives on each of its first-half possessions, then closed the first half with an 82-yard interception return and lateral to take a 28-14 halftime lead over Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium.
With seven seconds remaining in the half, MarQueis Gray threw a long pass toward receiver Marcus Jones, but the ball was intercepted by Bison safety Colton Heagle, who returned the ball 30 yards. When Jones reached him along the sidelines and pulled him down, Heagle tossed the ball backward, and cornerback Marcus Williams -- a Hopkins High grad -- plucked it out of the air and romped untouched for 52 yards and into the end zone to give NDSU a two-score lead.
That, and the fact that North Dakota will receive the second-half kickoff, had to deflate the Gophers, who have looked relatively steady offensively but way too beatable on defense.
Minnesota has received 68 rushing yards and two touchdowns from stocky tailback Donnell Kirkwood, and another 60 yards from senior Duane Bennett in the first half, the first time the running game has worked consistently this season.
But North Dakota State has gone on long touchdown drives all three times the Bison have touched the ball. Both teams are running the ball, with the Gophers piling up 150 yards on the ground to North Dakota State's 125. But Minnesota was forced to punt on its second possession; the Bison, with 207 total yards, have yet to do anything but march into the end zone.
North Dakota State has scored on drives of 65, 83 and 71 yards. The Gophers have mounted two impressive drives of their own, the first a 68-yard march on the game's first possession, capped by Kirkwood's 4-yard romp. In the second quarter, with freshman Max Shortell at the controls to give Gray a break, Minnesota ran 10 plays, all of them runs, to go 95 yards for another score. Kirkwood's 30-yard burst around left side was the scoring play.