I cannot stress enough how glad I am the offense produced last week so we could move along from all the...unpleasantness. I know it will only take one bad week for the masses to bring out their #Mitchforks, but the respite was still appreciated. What this means for me is that I've been very relaxed about this week.
My reduced anxiety about this game is likely due to the fact that in many ways, Northwestern is a mirror of Minnesota (often bad offense, great defense). It's easier to see how the Gophers win because I can easily identify all the flaws they need to exploit. Unspoken in this analysis is that I can also see all the ways Northwestern can win big if they put it all together, but let's not talk about that.
I have no clarity about what Minnesota team we'll see on Saturday, but my relaxation has allowed my traditionally optimistic nature to take over, which only increases my excitement for the game. I'm excited to see the Gophers play a team I care about for the first time in a month, and I'm excited to see the Big Ten season arrive!
The gnomes do not care that there is logic behind Northwestern's rankings. The gnomes do not care about the quality of the Wildcats' victories thus far. The gnomes do not buy the polite interactions of the Northwestern fans. The gnomes know that deep in their hearts, Northwestern fans think this game will be easy because they think Minnesota's offense is truly terrible. The gnomes want the Gophers to deliver another opening road win that silences the home fans (easier to do with fewer of them present) and leaves them wondering "WTF JUST HAPPENED?" In other words, the gnomes want this:
Kickoff Time: 11 AM CST
Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, IL
TV: Big Ten Network
***IMPORTANT NOTE: Michigan/Maryland was also moved to 11am on BTN because of this...
Graphic showing the rapid intensification of Joaquin..... #HurricaneJoaquin pic.twitter.com/LnvumWaiN2— Pablo Pereira (@PabloWeather) October 1, 2015
...as a result, I'd expect that Minnesota/Northwestern will get bumped to the BTN Alternate channel in many markets outside of Minnesota. If you are an expat like me, be aware of this and know how to find your alternate BTN channels. Either that, or be prepared to suffer the BTN2Go stream.
Streaming Video: BTN2Go.com
Radio: KFAN (100.3 in the Twin Cities) and the Gopher Radio Network (Radio Affiliates).
Streaming Audio: Locate KFAN on IHeartRadio.com (or the IHeartRadio app for your mobile device)
Satellite Radio: SiriusXM 81; Sirius 81; XM 81
Spread: Northwestern 3.5 to 4, depending on the site.
Over/Under: 40.5 to 41, depending on the site
Bill C's S&P+ Pick
|Proj. Winner||Proj. Margin||Win Prob.||Pick
|Minnesota at Northwestern||-4.5||Minnesota (21.5-19.1)||2.4||55.6%||Minnesota|
This is the numbers telling us this game is a tossup. Which feels right.
I'm ok watching this game on TV.
Where Are They From? This map explains things nicely.
All Time Series: Minnesota is 52-33-5 against Northwestern. A win on Saturday would be the 9th time Minnesota has won 3 games in a row against the Wildcats.
Last Season: 5-7 (3-5 B1G). How best to summarize last year for Northwestern...screw it, I'll just quote Inside NU's coverage of Northwestern's bowl denying loss to Illinois to save time:
- Fitz pulls a Beckman: "Other than this first half, the second half of the Nebraska game and the whole Iowa game, we had every opportunity to win the rest of the games."
It was so bad Fitz had to resort to Beckman logic.
2015 To Date: 4-0, and an impressive 4-0 at that. I checked, and there is only a handful of teams undefeated after week 4 with a better resume (in terms of quality of wins) than Northwestern. The advanced stats suggest a step back is probably coming, but until it happens they've earned their time in the spotlight.
Head Coach Dark Wizard: Pat Fitzgerald (11th season: 64-53, 30-42 B1G). I dunno. I'm just gonna stick with the image from the Dark Wizard link and move along. You all know Fitz by now.
Players To Watch:
1) Justin Jackson (RB - Sophomore): The heart of Northwestern's running game and the most talented kid on the offensive side of the ball for the Wildcats. Northwestern wants to run the ball, so if Minnesota can hold Jackson in check (I can't see them shutting him down) then the Gophers will be in a good shape.
2) Anthony Walker (LB, Sophomore): Tackling machine for Northwestern. He's 2nd in solo tackles with 19, 1st (by a large margin) in assisted tackles with 22, and 1st in tackles for loss with 7. Walker is always around the ball and I expect to hear his name called plenty against the Gophers.
3) Clayton Thorson (QB - RS Freshman): Clayton has the power to win this game for Minnesota. If he forces passes and gives the Minnesota defense the chance to feast on some turnovers, the the Gophers could be in good shape. I don't think he's quite good enough to win the game all by himself yet, but a #ClutchMitch style game winning drive is certainly something he can execute with Northwestern's offense so he's not a guy to sleep on. Currently 50 of 93 (53.2%) with 4 TD's and 3 INT's. I think InsideNU's answers about him in our Q&A summarize the young QB well:
Thorson has not necessarily been very good this year, and in fact he was pretty awful against Duke and for the first half against Ball State. But that third quarter against Ball State showed what he can do when he's feeling it. This year, he has struggled to make short throws, but his receivers have also struggled to get open for him at times. Overall, he's still learning, and until Northwestern loses a game, his performances will either be praised or at the very least tolerated.
Keys To The Game
- No turnovers: Every single game has included a costly turnover. Every single one. Can we please stop doing that? Please? It's pretty simple. If you turn the ball over in Big Ten games...
- Special teams play that isn't "special": No more. No more punt return mistakes. Please let us be done with the punt return mistakes.
- No defensive lapses: Last game was the opposite of what we hoped for. This week it would be the opposite of what we need. So I'm forced to say almost the exact thing I wrote last week...
The defense can't afford to give up chances through coverage errors, missed assignments, bad pursuit angles, or blown tackles. Show the world why you're a great defense for 60 full minutes. Not "every minute but that one drive where we let the other team do whatever they wanted."
How Afraid Am I?
For those who don't know, this is a bit where I rank my fear by saying how many Tim Brewsters I am afraid of the opponent. The more Tim Brewsters I list, the more afraid I am...because the memory of Timmy Brew is scary for all Gophers fans. Typically this is done on a scale of 1 to 5 "Brewsters on his face" in the Metrodome, though I mix it up as needed.
I'm 2.Ogre Brewsters afraid of Northwestern.
I told you I was relaxed.
Completely Worthless Prediction
I forsee "M00N, Part 2 - The Horrible Slog" through the first half before things open up a bit. Thorson tosses a pick that sets up a crucial Minnesota touchdown drive and the Gophers start 1-0 on the season!
Minnesota 17 - Northwestern 14
Make Your Own Predictions!