The Northwestern Wildcats (1-8) travel to Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Gophers (6-3) at 3:30 pm (EST) at Huntington Bank Stadium. Minnesota is a 17.5-point favorite and given a 91.5% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI. With that let’s take a look at what to expect in Northwestern vs. Minnesota.
The Wildcats are coming off a close 21-7 loss to #2 Ohio State last Saturday. The game was crazy, with 30-mile an hour winds and heavy rain. Northwestern should have the Gophers’ attention with their close game with the Buckeyes. The Wildcats already play teams close with five of their games being decided by seven points or less. A win or loss really does nothing for the Wildcats at this point. A win spoils the Gophers season a little and maybe takes away a bit of a confidence late in the season. A loss just keeps their eight-game losing streak going, and likely into next year with Purdue and Illinois as their last two opponents.
What To Watch
I’ll be watching the defense of the Wildcats this week. I know, I know, Ohio State was a fluke. Yet, to contain that offense and hold them to 21 points is impressive regardless. They held the Buckeyes to 283 yards of total offense, with 76 passing and 207 rushing. Not bad. They will have a similar task against Minnesota who average 212.2 yards rushing and 195.7 yards rushing per game. This won’t be an easy task as no one has been able to contain Mohamed Ibrahim this season, who is averaging 120 yards per game.
The Wildcats must look to take away the passing game and make the Gophers one-dimensional where they are at their weakest. If they can just focus on the run like last week, they will have the best shot at beating the Gophers and getting their first win since the season started.
Can they replicate what they did against Ohio State? That’s the question I have for the Wildcats. The Gophers are a great rushing team led by Mohamed Ibrahim. The Gophers can be one dimensional if you can take away their passing game (which isn’t too hard to do). They aren’t the threat the Buckeye’s would’ve been had they been able to throw last week. Northwestern now faces a very dominant rushing team. If the Wildcats can do what Nebraska did in the first half for the entire game, they’ll have a real shot at winning. The offense just has to score enough points on a tough Gopher defense that allows 14.2 points per game.
The Gophers are coming off of a 20-13 comeback win against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Minnesota scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to secure their win, something they hope they don’t have to do this week against Northwestern. For the Gophers a win puts them at 7-3 extending their winning streak to three games. A loss drops to 6-4 and well, would make this a disappointing season.
What To Watch
The defense is the thing to watch from the Gophers on Saturday. Last week they performed very well after allowing Nebraska to score ten points on their first two possessions. The Gophers held the Cornhuskers to 267 yards of total offense, 13 first downs, and a 25:19 time of possession and had one turnover. Minnesota also didn’t allow Nebraska to score from 4:18 in the first quarter to 4:49 left in the fourth. That’s a 45.29 scoring drought. That’s impressive, especially given that it gave the Gophers the time they needed to score 20 points and rally to win.
So, what can you expect against the Wildcats? Well, Northwestern averages 354.0 yards of total offense with 230.3 passing and 123.7 rushing. Northwestern plays their games close with an average points margin of 11.5. Five of their games have been decided by seven points or less and the other four by ten points or greater. This offense can score and can keep it close. Don’t be shocked if the score resembles what it looked like last week.
Who starts at quarterback on Saturday? That’s the question Gophers fans have been wanting to know on an almost week-to-week basis during the last month. Tanner Morgan left last week’s game with an undisclosed injury and Athan Kaliakmanis played very well in helping lead the Gophers in their come from behind victory. With Morgan injured and not playing well it has opened up a quarterback controversy in Minnesota. Kaliakmanis has played well, and the offense seems to function much better with his versatility than with Morgan. Right now, Morgan’s injury is unknown along with his status. If he’s out with an injury then Kaliakmanis will start, otherwise it seems unknown who will start at the moment if both are healthy.
My bold prediction for this game is that the Gophers will rush for 300 yards. The weather may not be great and the Gophers average over 200 yards rushing per game and Ibrahim averages 120 a game as well. It’s not hard to see Minnesota succeeding here if they are to become one-dimensional in this game. No one has stopped Ibrahim all year long and I don’t see the Wildcats being the first. Minnesota in the second half will run the clock out by running after getting a lead and in the end Mo and Co. will dominate once again.
The following betting lines are according to ESPN’s Pick Center.
- Northwestern: +17.5
- Minnesota: -17.5
- Northwestern: +635
- Minnesota: -885
Where To Watch
Northwestern vs. Minnesota will air on the Big 10 network at 3:30 pm (EST). Commentating the game will be Jeff Levering (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst), and Elise Menaker (sideline). The game will be aired on the Big 10 Network this Saturday. Streaming Services that have the Big 10 network are Big 10 Plus, Fox Sports, Directv Stream, fubo TV, Hulu (with live TV), Sling (with live TV), and Vidgo.
I’ll be doing a pair of predictions since we don’t know who is starting at quarterback for Minnesota. Regardless of who plays, the Gophers are winning this game. If Tanner Morgan plays it’ll be close like a lot of Wildcat games have been this season. Northwestern will find a way to slow down Mohamed Ibrahim and their rushing attack, causing Morgan to struggle in the passing game. It’ll take a while for the offense to get going; thankfully the defense will shut down the Wildcat’s offense for the most part. In the end the Gophers are just better than Northwestern and will pull out the win 24-10.
If Athan Kaliakmanis starts this game, it will play out like the spread suggests. Northwestern will again slow down Mohamed Ibrahim, except this time Kaliakmanis will be able to find success throwing the ball and allow the Gophers to score early on taking a nice lead into the half. The defense will be able to stay fresh with prolonged drives by the offense and shutout Northwestern in the second half. The Gophers will come out and add to their lead and cruise to a 38-7 win.