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September 07. 2012 9:22PM

UNH football has eyes on another big upset today at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota opens its fourth home schedule in classy TCF Bank Stadium this morning — game time here is 11:01 for Big Ten Network television reasons — looking to snap an ugly streak.

The University of New Hampshire hopes to be the ultimate rude guest and add to the misery of Golden Gopher Nation.

Minnesota has lost its last two games against Football Championship Subdivision teams, to South Dakota in 2010 and North Dakota State in 2011.

UNH will try to make it three straight losses for the Gophers when stepping down a level from the Football Bowl Subdivision.

How the Wildcat defense deals with Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior who is especially dangerous when he runs with the ball, will go a long way toward determining the team's success.

“He loves to run the ball and they have two good backs as well,” said Jimmy Vailas, a junior defensive end out of Bedford and Kimball Union Academy in Meriden. “We've got to do a good job playing our gaps and doing our jobs.”

Maybe more than usual, the Wildcats need to stop the run and force Gray to pass the ball.

“He's not a bad passer,” Vailas said. “But, he's a better runner.”

Gray ran for 966 yards last season, a record for a Minnesota quarterback and fourth-best ever for a Big Ten QB.

He accounted for 337 yards — 68 rushing and 269 passing — in a 30-27 triple overtime win at UNLV in Minnesota's season opener.

Gray completed 17 of his 30 passes in that one for two touchdowns. But he didn't get the two scores until overtime. He threw an interception in regulation.

Last year, Gray completed just over 50 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and also had eight interceptions.

Defensively, Minnesota had three picks last week against UNLV. The Gophers had only four interceptions all last season.

UNH will try to come out on the positive side of the turnover ratio again today.

In last week's 38-17 win at Holy Cross, the Wildcats got interceptions from Dontra Peters and Manny Asam, a forced fumble by Jared Smith and recovery by Vailas and did not turn the ball over themselves.

UNH also had three quarterback sacks but did not allow a sack of redshirt freshman starting quarterback Sean Goldrich or Andy Vailas, a sophomore from Bedford.

Left tackle Seamus O'Neill, a junior out of Manchester Central, and sophomore center Mike Coccia played particularly well.

“The offensive line did a good job of protecting the quarterback and I also thought the quarterbacks did a good job of escaping pressure,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. “I thought all the guys did a nice job up front. Seamus probably graded out the best and Mike Coccia did a real nice job.”

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The Golden Gophers are in their fourth season on campus in TCF Bank Stadium (capacity 50,000) after moving over from the Metrodome, the home of the Vikings.

“It's exciting,” said senior offensive lineman Chris Zarkoskie after the team's walk-through practice on Friday afternoon. “It's brand new, the facilities are great, the field is great. But the field is the same size no matter where you play. . . . Two years before I got here, (UNH) played a Big Ten team and went to Northwestern and got a big win. We prepared this week like it was any other game and hopefully we can get another big win.”

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Goldrich was the first redshirt freshman to start a season opener for UNH when he led the way against Holy Cross. . . . Vailas played a very efficient second quarter series leading to a 38-yard touchdown pass to Joey Orlando. McDonnell said Vailas will play today, too. . . . Minnesota sophomore tailback Donnell Kirkwood carried 13 times for 81 yards against UNLV and junior wide receiver A.J. Barker caught three passes for 101 yards.

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