Lowes Line


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



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 do it?

"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 victory.

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 attack.

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 the game.

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:

But 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 barely.

Season to date:  Straight Up: 5-5; Against the Spread:  8-2.


The Lowes Line is an e-mailed description of NU's next football game, with an invariably fearless prediction of the outcome and how NU will fare against what the other "experts" predict.  Our good 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.  For the 2018 season it has returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line!