Lowes Line


Minnesota Preview and Prediction

By The Lowes Line Staff

Matchup: Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1, 1-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (1-2, 0-1)
Location:  Ryan Field at Dyche Stadium at Central Avenue at Evanston at Illinois at United States at North America at Earth at Solar System at Milky Way

Date: Saturday, September 23, 2023, 6:30 pm CDT

TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Minnesota (-11), o/u: 39.5

Outlook:  That sound you hear is the rest of the Big Ten re-jiggering their football schedules to make sure that Northwestern is their Homecoming opponent. 

Why not schedule the newly reestablished Big Ten doormat to visit your stadium for a convenient pasting in front of intoxicated alumni?  What better way to get them to open up their checkbooks for generous donations!  Cha-ching goes the happy Big Ten cash registers!  USC and UCLA can only be salivating at the prospect of having the Mildcats come west (young man) so they, too, can get in on the gravy train.

In sunnier days, when Minnesota appeared on the Wildcat schedule, the Line enjoyed significant levity at the chosen nickname of the team hailing from the Twin Cities.  One staffer took a deep dive into Roget's for every possible synonym for Golden Gopher.  And who can forget the tour de force that was "Caddyshack" quotes seamlessly worked into football analysis?  Instant classic! 

These days, we're left to ponder over the utter wreckage of the Wildcat football program...indeed, the entire Wildcat athletic program.  As set out in the opening column, it's a pretty simple proposition that hazing is wrong.  The reality is that the problem isn't whether the coaches knew, or whether they should have known something objectionable was going on.  There shouldn't have been anything to know about in the first place!  And we can't rely on the usual "excuse" for such poor behavior by reciting the time-worn adage, "boys will be boys".  Women's volleyball and softball were apparently similarly infected with abusive behavior.  What's next?  Will the NU women's field hockey team be shamed into returning multiple national championship trophies because incoming freshmen players were subjected to a Tailhook-style gauntlet? 


On the flip side, things here at the Line seem to be humming along very well.  As Exhibit A, I offer you the previous week's prediction of the outcome against the Blue Devils, off by a mere 2 points (though correctly predicting how many NU would surrender to Duke).  While it may have lacked the spit takes of the prior week's preview of the UTEP matchup, it certainly nailed the sorry prospects of the Purple heading into Durham.  And NU was only too willing to play down to those lowly standards.  NU gave up almost 500 yards of offense to Duke and was never a threat to make it a game.  Bryant continued years of mediocre quarterback play by completing half of his passes, including one to the other team (of course).  NU has very little run game to speak of.  The defense still cannot get off the field on 3rd down; though, to be honest, Duke faced only 9 of those during the game and rarely needed a third down conversion to continue a drive.  I suppose the silver lining is that at least we lost to a ranked team?  (It's an interesting juxtaposition between Duke and NU.  Both were moribund programs, and then NU climbed out and had its breakout stretch, and could count on Duke being a relatively "easy" game.  Now those positions have flipped, and not only does Duke clobber us, but they also troll us on social media.)

Into Evanston comes the boat rowed by PJ Fleck.  The Gophers currently stand atop the Big Ten West, having defeated Nebraska in the season opener (NU, of course, is at the bottom looking up).  That opening game was about as ugly as it gets, and the Gophers needed a highlight reel touchdown catch late in the 4th quarter and a field goal as time expired to come back from 7 down and steal the opener 13-10, ruining Matt Rhule's Nebraska debut.  Minnesota followed that up with a relatively easy win against MAC competition, and then was similarly beaten in North Carolina by a ranked Tar Heel squad.  In fact, there are many parallels between the Gophers' and Wildcats' Saturdays in North Carolina:  Duke #21, Carolina #20.  Final scores, 38-14, 31-13.  Deficit at half time, NU down 10, Gophers down 11.  Yards surrendered to opposing offense:  about 500.  Chances to win for the Big Ten squad...well, pretty much ended at the coin flip.

What to expect this Saturday in Evanston?  Neither team is a statistical juggernaut.  Northwestern, in all categories, is in the half of FBS that makes the top half possible.  In fact, the only category in which NU ranks better than 100 is points against.  Similarly, Minnesota ranks worse than half in most statistical categories, with points allowed being the one "good" category (though they're only 32nd).  Thankfully for the NU secondary, Minnesota is a putrid passing team, ranking 123rd at around 140 yards per game.  Less rosy for the NU defensive backs is that they'll probably be seeing a lot of Darius Taylor, Minnesota's leading running back, averaging 6 yards a carry, and easily eclipsing the century mark in each of his last two games.  Given their passing woes, and given NU's inability to stop the run (Duke ran up 268 yards on the ground), I would expect to see a steady diet of Darius Taylor.  The question will be whether NU can stop Taylor reliably on 1st and 2nd down, and then get off the field more than half of the time on 3rd.  An aside here:  it is pretty illustrative of what oddsmakers think of NU's chances when the Gophers are favored by 11 but the over/under is less than 40.  Apparently, the end zone will appear to the Wildcats' offense like they're looking at it through the wrong end of the binoculars.

On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats will have to find a way to move the ball on the ground.  Having a 4.9 ypc average against a ranked team is nice, but if that only translates to 10 carries for 4.9 yards...that's just not going to do it.  The Cats need to find a way to keep Cam Porter at that average, but at double or triple the number of carries.  It is very telling that 3 of the top 4 rushers on the NU offense are not running backs.  That's just not a formula for victory.  Of course, with the quarterback play NU has seen this season so far, why would teams be afraid of our passing attack?

It boils down to which running back has more success, Darius Taylor or Cam Porter.  Neither team passes the ball well.  Remarkably, Minnesota's quarterback play might be even worse than NU's.  Neither team has shown the ability to stop a good offense.  That Minnesota is favored by 11 on the road is a bit puzzling, because the teams are actually pretty similar in a lot of ways.  I think it is a pretty ugly game, one that probably doesn't bear watching on a Saturday night, but I can see Minnesota pulling away late and covering, as Taylor wears down the NU defense in the second half and the Gophers put up essentially meaningless points (unless you're a gambler) in the 4th to salt away the game.  At the end of the day, it looks like this:

(C'mon...you knew there had to be ONE reference to Caddyshack in here!)

Pick: Minnesota 24, Wildcats 10.  Minnesota puts up a late touchdown to cover.
Season to date: 1-2 ATS, 2-1 SU

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 Lone Star 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 2032 season it has returned to HailToPurple.com, for anyone to enjoy.  Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes Line!