Minnesota Preview and Prediction
By Joel Kanvik
Matchup: #22 Northwestern Wildcats (6-4, 6-1 B1G WEST CHAMPIONS!!!) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-5, 2-5 B1G)
Date: Saturday, November 17, 11:00 a.m., CST
Line: Northwestern (-2); ESPN FPI: NU 60.1% chance to win; O/U 47.5
WE WON THE BIG TEN WEST!! WE WON THE BIG TEN WEST!! INDIANAPOLIS, HERE WE COME!!
Ahem, my apologies for the frivolity. But I think it's safe to
say that this time last week very few people, including the experts,
believed Northwestern would clinch the Big Ten West Saturday. Too
many pieces would have to fall in place for it to happen, not the least
of which was traveling to Iowa City and beating a Hawkeyes team that,
preseason, was predicted to contend with Wisconsin for the Big Ten West
title. Wisconsin would have to lose at Happy Valley to a Penn
State team that looked miserable in the Big House the week
before. And the Badgers accommodated, looking good for for the
first 3 plays and then miserable afterwards, losing 22-10. And
then Purdue would have to lose to Minnesota. Purdue, who
clobbered Ohio State. But what a difference a couple of weeks
(and a bunch of snow) made. The Boilermakers laid a major egg on
TCF Field, losing in a laugher, 41-10 (and, no, that's not a typo).
The scene at Kinnick immediately after the game was giddy, with Fitz
calling all of his players to a huddle in which he told them that
Wisconsin and Purdue had lost, and they were the champs. If you
haven't seen it, look here: The sweet moment Northwestern players found out they won the Big Ten West
How did we beat the hated Hawkeyes?
If you took one thing away from last week's Line, it was that guest
author O'Briant cared little for the Hawkeyes. (Aside: when
Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the first conference game was at
Wisconsin, and ESPN's College Gameday was at Camp Randall to mark the
occasion. The best sign in the crowd read: "Everyone here
hates Iowa". How true!) Iowa had a string of dominance over
the Wildcats that has become a little more even since Gary Barnett took
over the program. Still, most prognosticators believed that Iowa
would emerge victorious from Kinnick Stadium (most, that is, except Mr.
P.S. O'Briant) and would delay the Wildcats clinching the Big Ten West
at least another week. But the Wildcats stunned everyone and gave
them, as Lou Brown would say, a big sh*tburger to eat. How'd we
"Goodnight, Sweetheart, well, it's time to go." Does that give you enough of a hint?
Whether you're a fan of the 70s/80s Bowser of Sha Na Na fame, or the
90s version that ran rampant in Mario Kart, the 21st century version in
purple and white put on a show on Saturday. The leader of NU's
rejuvenated running game put 165 yards on Iowa's defense and averaged
over 5 a carry. The sickly rushing attach after Jeremy Larkin was
forced into retirement seems a distant memory. Thorson,
frustratingly, went back to being his normal self, he of the 50%
completion percentage and more picks than TDs. Oh, but what a TD
it was! Bennett Skowronek's diving catch for a touchdown in the
4th quarter that providing the winning margin will forever live in
Wildcat lore. It was a great throw by Thorson and and even better
catch. After that, it was up to the defense to preserve the
And preserve it they did. Twice late in the 4th quarter, the
defense started to bend but then caused a turnover that halted any
chance the Hawkeyes had to march down the field. Overall,
defensively Northwestern played well. The Cats D held Iowa to 64
yards rushing, and held up reasonably well against the Iowa passing
Still, though, when it mattered that the Cats move the ball to keep the
clock running and the ball out of Hawkeye hands, the Cats really
couldn't. After taking the lead, the Cats managed 2 3-and-outs
after a Hawkeye punt and then fumble, but did get a first down after
the second Hawkeye fumble, albeit going for it and making it on 4th and
2. But I like that Fitz challenged the offense to go out and win
Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream...
Next up for the Cats is TCF Bank Field and the P.J. "Row the Boat"
Fleck-led Golden Gophers of Minnesota. This is Fleck's second
year on the bridge and it has been a curious year for the team.
They were blown out by Nebraska, Maryland, and Illinois (!) and so the
boat they're rowing looks like this:
then they beat Fresno State (ranked in the CFP before losing to Boise),
beat tough-out Indiana, and torpedoed Purdue. After those games,
they must have felt like this: The Lonely Island - I'm On A Boat ft. T-Pain
The Gopher defense actually showed up
and held Purdue's offense to 233 total yards. Meanwhile the
offense put up over 400 yards and held onto the ball for over 33
minutes. At the helm of the Gopher offense is redshirt freshman
Tanner Morgan. He took over mid-season from Zach Annexstad.
His completion percentage approaches 60% (in a somewhat limited
sample), but he does not seem to be a huge threat as a runner,
averaging 1.3 yards per run. That will help the Wildcats defense,
which does not deal with with running QBs.
However, the Gophers O will be driven by the twin screws of Mohamed
Ibrahim at tailback and Tyler Johnson at wide receiver. The
former sports a gaudy 5.7 ypc and has scored 5 TDs on the ground.
Frequently, in goal-to-go situations, the Gophers will also use
football polymath Seth Green (but not the one of Scott Evil fame), who
has racked up 8 rushing touchdowns to go with one receiving and two
passing (he was 4 for 5 with 2 TDs and a pick against Purdue).
Tyler Johnson will be the Kraken for the Wildcats secondary. He
averages over 15 yards a catch and has hauled in 9 touchdowns so
far. He's also playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder,
having recently been left off the Belitnikoff Award list. He will
look to prove the voters wrong with a strong showing against the
Wildcats. Add in the absence of Montre Hartage from the NU
secondary, and Johnson might be able to run wild. It will take a
team effort to keep him in check.
So is NU the Scylla & Charybdis? Or are we the Lazy River?
This game is very worrisome. After surprising everyone to clinch
the Big Ten West last Saturday, NU is probably due for a let
down. This isn't a trap game, as Indy is far enough away that the
Cats won't be looking over Minnesota and Illinois to see Michigan or
Ohio State. However, because we have the division all sewn up, NU
might rest on its laurels and put up a half-hearted effort against
Fleck's oarsmen. Add into that the Gophers' collective euphoria
over clobbering a superior Boilermaker team and the ability to get up
for a chance to beat the division champion, and all signs point to an
ugly result at TCF Bank Field. The same field where Purdue did
its best Titanic impression.
In order to avoid being the Andrea Doria to Fleck's Stockholm, a few
things need to happen. First and foremost, the Cats have to run
the football. Mr. Sha Na Na (or armored turtle, if you prefer)
has to run early and often and well for the Cats to have a
chance. That does many things: it takes the game off
Thorson's shoulders, it provides the Cats with (hopefully) scoring
opportunities, and it keeps Tyler Johnson and the Gopher offense in
drydock, where they belong. Thorson has to stop passing out the
football like gift vouchers. His 12 TD/12 pick ratio this season
will not cut it this game. The Cats D was able to overcome
Thorson's two interceptions last Saturday but, just like you can't
count on getting turnovers at crunch time, it's folly to rely on your
defense to continually bail you out of boneheaded decisions.
Thorson has to be better with the football. And the Cats D needs
to scheme to stop Tyler Johnson from gashing it with huge gains through
the air, while remaining stout against the run. The secondary
will definitely be tested against this Gopher team. Paddy Fisher
has to have a huge game in the middle.
Pick: Northwestern 27, Minnesota 24. The
Wildcats struggle early with apathy, but catch on just in time to avoid
an embarrassing loss. The Wildcats win and cover...but just
Season to date: Straight Up: 5-5; Against the Spread: 8-2.
The Lowes Line is an
e-mailed description of NU's
football game, with an invariably fearless prediction of the outcome
how NU will fare against what the other "experts" predict. Our
friend and Brother Marcus Lowes began the broadcast mailing in 1996.
The crack Lowes Line Staff (alumni Jersey Cat,
GallopingGrapes, P.S. O'Briant, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and
MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus.
the 2018 season it has returned to HailToPurple.com,
for anyone to enjoy. Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes