Game Preview


Minnesota at Northwestern
Ryan Field
Saturday, Oct. 13.  Time: 11:00 am CDT
TV: Big Ten Network
WGN radio internet coverage.

Game Preview: Northwestern vs. Minnesota
by Jonathan Hodges


Northwestern (3-3, 1-2) kicks off the second half of its 2007 campaign against Minnesota (1-5, 0-3) in the homecoming game at Ryan Field.  NU is coming off of its best offensive performance since the 2005 Basanez-led team (with a healthy Sutton) and is looking at 2 consecutive win-able games which could help the 'Cats edge closer to bowl eligibility.  Meanwhile, Minnesota has not fared as well - with their only win coming in week two (a 6 point victory over Miami OH) and have lost each of their first 3 Big Ten games by an average of 19 points.  Northwestern and Minnesota both had their "lowlight" game of the year in week 3 as NU fell at home to Duke and Minnesota fell on the road to Florida Atlantic (thanks to 7 turnovers in the game).

Minnesota should look somewhat familiar to Wildcat fans: they have a pretty good offense (led by former Wildcat OC Dunbar), a pretty bad defense, can't sack anyone, and can't stop from getting sacked.  Also, they have been killed by turnovers (most notably in the 7 turnover FAU game), and sport an astoundingly bad - 2.33 turnover/game margin, good for 118th in the nation.  The Gopher offense should be able to move the ball on NU (especially given NU's poor pass defense and complete lack of a pass rush), so the key to the game will be generating turnovers.  If the Wildcats can steal the football and put themselves in good field position, the offense should be able to take care of the rest.

On offense, NU must continue to protect the football (which they did a nice job of at MSU) and continue to protect the quarterback.  Minnesota is not much of a threat on the pass rush ( e.g. they are about as threatening as NU's pass rush) so the key will be avoiding costly turnovers as the 'Cats should be able to move the ball effectively against another virtually non-existent pass defense.

While this game seems to be comfortably in NU's favor, we all know first hand what can happen when the OL can't protect the quarterback or gets behind the chains with penalties - and this game will be key to Northwestern's bowl hopes for the remainder of the season.  It will be homecoming, though, and after last week's track meet this team should have plenty of fire to churn out a win on Saturday.

Line: Northwestern by 7.

Who Should Win: Despite the fact that these two teams are very similar (bad defense, good offense, young head coach), NU has proven that it can churn out the win in close games - with a comeback win over Nevada at home and last week's thriller OT win on the road at Michigan State.  Meanwhile, Minnesota has been upended by the likes of Bowling Green and Florida Atlantic while being beaten by at least 2 TDs in each of its 3 Big Ten games.  With Northwestern's offense working effectively (which it should be able to do against a team that is bad at defending the pass) and if the defense can come up with a couple of stops (and hopefully a turnover) NU should win handily.

Upset Factor: The 2007 season is the "season of the upset" with USC falling to Stanford, Louisville falling to Syracuse, Michigan falling to Appalachian State, oh, and NU falling to Duke (their only win in the past 26 games, although they have only lost their last 3 games by an average of 6 points/game) - so anything can happen.  Minnesota can run the ball with Pinnix (if they chose to do so) and we all see what NU's defense allows when opponents run the ball (see Michigan State's 41 points).  If Northwestern fails to get a big stop or a turnover on defense and the offense falls out of sync things could start looking down for the 'Cats.

What to Look For:

Northwestern Offense/Minnesota Defense: Northwestern should be able to move the ball well (especially through the air since Minnesota's pass defense is ranked dead last in the nation in yards allowed) - so the entire offense needs to replicate what it was doing last week.  The only major concern is if NU can't get in sync (NU needs to make those big 3rd down conversions like they did last week 68% of the time and Bacher needs to keep his completion percentage up there) or if the 'Cats suffer turnovers (thus far the only issue has been pressure on CJ causing bad throws/fumbles or just plain bad passes).  Minnesota has just as many sacks on the year as NU (5) so their pass rush isn't much of a threat - although that doesn't mean the OL can take a day off.

Northwestern Defense/Minnesota Offense: This presents a major problem for Northwestern, who has looked poor against the pass all year (and against the run last week), as Minnesota runs a pretty efficient and balanced offense.  Their biggest issue is turnovers, as they rank 116th nationally with 20 turnovers on the year.  Their redshirt freshman QB Adam Weber has had a solid year (outside of the turnovers), and their rushing trio of Pinnix, Bennett, and Thomas are all threats - when they can make the field and hold onto the football.  NU must take advantage of this and generate some takeaways, otherwise the Gophers' offense could have a big day.  Also, don't expect to see NU's pass rush come out of nowhere this game as Minnesota ranks 10th nationally in sacks allowed with only 5 on the season.

Special Teams: The Wildcats have done well in the special teams department this year - generating a couple of nice returns (on kickoffs), stopping any significantly damaging returns, and kicking the ball well.  This must continue, especially if the game turns into a high-scoring affair (much like last week).  Special teams can give NU the edge in field position and also on the scoreboard if it comes down to a kick.  Minnesota is dangerous on kickoff returns, though, ranking 18th nationally at over 25 yds/return, and while NU has been giving up yards on kickoffs they haven't allowed the big play - which is something that NU must continue to prevent.


- Nobody probably remembers, but the last time these teams played back in 2004 Minnesota beat NU 43-17 (they jumped out to a 33-10 lead at halftime) and definitely ran up the score late in the game (something that surprised and apparently upset Coach Walker at the time) as Minnesota capped off a 19 play, 87 yard drive (which took 10:07 off the clock) in the 4th quarter with a halfback throw on 4th down to set the final score.  Minnesota was easily in field goal range and it initially looked like they were going to keep the ball on the ground with a run, but instead ran a trick play to increase their lead (with very little time left on the clock.
- Minnesota's pass defense ranks dead last in the nation at 119th with 345.83 yds/game given up (on average).  Their pass efficiency defense is ranked 106th at 147.54.
- The Gophers' total defense is ranked at 118th giving up 515.83 yds/game on average.
- Their redshirt freshman QB Adam Weber has done relatively well (besides the interceptions), as he ranks 19th in the nation in total offense with 301.83 yds/game.
- Minnesota's first 2 games of the year went into OT (against MAC teams Bowling Green and Miami OH).  Much like NU's 2001 encounter with Bowling Green, the MAC squad went for the two point conversion for the win and scored, allowing them to walk away winners without continuing the game.

Injury Report:

Tyrell Sutton (RB): reportedly will not play and again does not appear on NU's depth chart as he has a nagging high ankle sprain that very well may keep him out for the remainder of the year.
Omar Conteh (RB): reportedly will play after apparently suffering dehydration at the MSU game (despite playing the whole game and scoring the winning touchdown on a reception).
Brendan Smith (S): is listed as out for the season and will reportedly have another surgery on his injured shoulder.
Eddie Simpson (LB): is still questionable with a leg injury and he does not appear on the depth chart.

Prediction: Northwestern 35 - Minnesota 24

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

Previous jhodges commentary

jhodges' commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of HailToPurple.com.