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Golden Gopher Football vs. Northwestern Wildcats - OPEN THREAD

TV: Big Ten Network
Game Time: 11:00
Radio: 100.3 FM, 1130 AM

Gopher football with their last road game of the year. Northwestern is fighting to win their important sixth game and get themselves bowl eligible. Next week they host Michigan State so this is their best chance at getting to six, but the Gophers are playing better. Can we play the spoiler?

The Stats

Minnesota Golden Gophers Northwestern Wildcats
Points / Game 18.1 30.9
Pass Yards 159.5 261.0
Rush Yards 140.3 184.5
3rd Down % 35.7% 50.0%
Key Offensive Player to Watch MarQueis Gray
Dan Persa
Points Allowed/Game 34.5
Pass Yards 230.6 232.8
Rush Yards 200.3 179.0
3rd Down % 47.2% 49.3%
Key Defensive Player to Watch Keanon Cooper Bryce McNaul (from Minnesota)

Three Questions

  1. Is there any conceivable way the Gopher defense slows down Dan Persa's passing game? - Russell Wilson was 16/17 last week against our defense and he owns the second best completion percentage in the Big Ten. Who leads the league? Dan Persa at just over 75% completion. That is an outstanding number. Persa is more than happy to throw it to the open receiver for 6-8 yards all day long rather than taking unnecessary shots that result in incompletions and then 2nd or 3rd and long. He may go 20/20 if we aren't careful.
  2. Can the Gopher offense keep up with the Northwestern offense? - I have no doubt that Northwestern will move the ball with ease, but can the Gopher offense keep up? NU's defense isn't very good either. They claim that they are playing better lately but this unit is still vulnerable. I'm really looking at Gray to rack up a lot of yards that hopefully lead to a lot of points.
  3. Can we generate some turnovers? - We have just three interceptions in 10 games. That is an amazing number, some teams get that in a game! We also have only three fumble recoveries. Six turnovers gained to 15 lost means we own the worst turnover margin in the Big Ten. Giving it up 15 times isn't a terrible number, three teams have more, but forcing just six is bad.

The Answers

First of all I do not think we will slow down Persa or the Northwestern offense. At best we can hope for a couple mistakes on their part. I'm really looking at Keanon Cooper and Kim Royston to come up big on the short to middle completions. I don't think they'll take a ton of shots deep, but we need to make things difficult for the intermediate receivers. Some big hits or some balls knocked loose would be really nice to see. Northwestern also has given up a decent amount of sacks this year. And our defense seems to be getting better pressure lately, a sack or two (or three) might help create a big play in our favor.

I like our chances offensively to score and it will all rest on Gray's back. Assuming his back is as healthy as he is leading us to believe, he could have a huge game. Denard Robinson racked up 400+ yards on this defense, Nathan Steelchase did too and Taylor Martinez had his biggest passing day of the year on this D as well. We averaged 10.3 points per game in the first three B1G games and 19.7 in the last three. We are playing better ball offensively and this game might be our offensive breakout. I'm just not sure it will be enough.

This will determine if we win the game or not. We absolutely need to generate some turnovers. If we can be +2, I think we'll have a chance. If not I fear NU may score on every possession and we won't be able to keep up with the shootout.

But once again all I'm looking for today is to see a competitive team that plays football like a Big Ten football team. I'm not anticipating a win, just hoping for a good game.