Minnesota recognizes urgency of NIU game

Last week, Minnesota's theme was opportunity.

This week, it's urgency.

The Gophers are in desperate need of a win Saturday night against Northern Illinois (Big Ten Network, 8:30 p.m. ET). Teams that go 1-3 in nonconference play usually see their postseason window slammed shut, and a Minnesota team that has been to bowl games in each of the last two years doesn't want to see it happen.

Despite a much better overall performance last Saturday against No. 20 USC, Minnesota still stings from its Week 2 loss to South Dakota. Had the Gophers handled their business against an FCS team at home, there would be a much different feeling about the USC game and perhaps about the program's direction under Tim Brewster.

At 1-2, Minnesota and its embattled coach need a win in the worst way Saturday night.

"It's obviously huge," Brewster said. "I was really pleased with how our players responded to playing I think one of the most talented football teams in the country in USC. That'll give us some momentum going into this game."

The Gophers won't overlook anyone after the Dakota Debacle, and Northern Illinois certainly is on their radar. Although the preseason MAC West favorites have been a bit disappointing so far this season, the Huskies led last week at Illinois and opened the season two years ago at the Metrodome in a game the Gophers won 31-27 on a fourth-down touchdown run with 22 seconds left.

"They play everybody down to the wire, and they beat a lot of teams," Brewster said. "It's not hard for them to get our attention."

The good news for Minnesota is running back Duane Bennett, who scored the game-winning touchdown against NIU in 2008, should be 100 percent for Saturday after being slowed by a sprained ankle against USC. Northern Illinois was vulnerable against the run in losses to both Illinois and Iowa State, and the Gophers will try to re-establish their power game Saturday.

Minnesota also is focused on finishing better after losing a third-quarter lead against USC.

"What we're all about is finishing games and finishing situations, and we didn't do that against USC," Brewster said. "That was disappointing. But I felt really good about a lot of things I saw in that game, and I think it's really going to help us as we move forward."