Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
The Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-1) start their Big Ten season on Saturday against the 4-0 Northwestern Wildcats, in what is sure to be a tough test on the road. Both teams are coming off narrow victories over MAC teams last week, as Minnesota beat Ohio by three and Northwestern beat Ball State by five points.
Here’s a closer look at the game, which will start around 11 a.m local time in Evanston, Illinois.
The Minnesota View
The Golden Gophers three non-conference wins have each come by three points, including last Saturday’s rally to beat Ohio 27-24. Quarterback Mitch Leidner set a career-high with 264 passing yards last Saturday, and the tailback tandem of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks combined for 176 rushing yards in the game.
Against a very tough Northwestern defense, Smith and Brooks should combine to be the centerpiece of Minnesota’s offense. The Wildcats are 10th in the country against the pass entering this week’s action (137.8 yards per game), but have not been quite as good against the run (128.3 yards per game) and Ball State had 181 yards on the ground against them last week. 74 of those yards last week came from quarterback Riley Neal, so there may be some opportunities for Leidner to hurt the Wildcats with his legs
Even with injuries hurting their secondary, the Golden Gophers should have little trouble with a Northwestern passing game led by redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson.
The Northwestern View
The Wildcats are unbeaten on the strength of two primary factors. A stingy defense took center stage in a season-opening win over Stanford, and they are third in the country in scoring defense (8.8 points per game) entering conference play.
Offensively, running back Justin Jackson is the primary weapon for Northwestern. He entered this week ninth in the country with 516 yards, on a FBS-leading 118 carries that includes 68 carries over the last two games, and Jackson is also third on the team with seven receptions. Minnesota has allowed 151.3 rushing yards per game so far this season (57th in the country), so Jackson should get all the carries he can handle again this week.
Saturday’s game is sure to be low-scoring and closely contested, and whoever wins will earn a positive mark on their resume as Big Ten play really gets rolling.
Score Prediction: Northwestern 17, Minnesota 13
More from Minnesota Football
- Golden Gophers Football: Matt Limegrover and Jim Zebrowski Fired
- Golden Gophers vs. Iowa: Game Time, Odds, Broadcast Map, Announcers
- Golden Gophers Football: Tracy Claeys Named Permanent Head Coach
- Golden Gophers vs. Iowa: 5 Players to Watch
- Golden Gophers Football: Tracy Claeys May Have Interim Label Removed
More from Gold and Gopher
- Must-have Minnesota Golden Gophers items for football season
- Minnesota Golden Gophers Father’s Day Gift Guide
- Minnesota Golden Gophers Gift Guide: 10 Man Cave must-haves
- Get Golden Gophers News, in the New FanSided Android App
- Gold and Gopher Madness: Win $500 or an Apple TV from RetailMeNot and LockerDome