The Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1) look to get back on track in their return to Big Ten play with a road trip to face the Northwestern Wildcats (1-2) on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
Can Northwestern score on offense?
The Wildcats’ offense has been anemic through the first three games of the season. They scored more touchdowns (4) against UTEP than they did against Rutgers and Duke combined (3).
Sixth-year quarterback Ben Bryant, who pinballed between Cincinnati and Eastern Michigan before ending up at Northwestern, has been less than impressive as the starting signal caller this season. He is completing 55.5% of his passes, averaging 4.2 yards per pass attempt, and has thrown more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). Bryant has been a solid quarterback in the past, but his accuracy and decisiveness have only flashed in short bursts here.
Much like the Gophers, the Wildcats lack explosiveness in the passing game. There isn’t a ton of talent at wide receiver aside from Michigan transfer A.J. Henning, who is their most dynamic playmaker. The senior has both a receiving touchdown and a rushing touchdown this season.
Running back Cam Porter leads the team with 33 carries for 147 rushing yards.
Put simply, this is an offense that has struggled to get traction against either of the Power 5 defenses it has faced this season, and I’d be surprised if that changes against Minnesota.
Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score
It’s a safe bet Gopher running back Darius Taylor will get a lot of work on Saturday. Northwestern has allowed at least 100 rushing yards in each of their first three games. After getting gashed on the ground by Duke last week, the Wildcats are allowing an average of 164.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 102nd nationally. They have struggled to win at the line of scrimmage and tackling has been issue, even with veteran linebacker Bryce Gallagher leading the defense.
It’s tough to gauge how well the Northwestern secondary has played up to this point. Rutgers quarterback Gavin Wimsatt and UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison had a fair amount of success, but neither is a prolific passer. Duke quarterback Riley Leonard was efficient, finishing 15-of-20 for 211 passing yards, though he did most of his damage running the ball.
This is not a great defense, but I don’t think they are pushovers, either. I could see P.J. Fleck calling Taylor’s number most of the night, but even when Minnesota was having success on the ground against North Carolina, the Gophers refused to turn away from the passing game.
But who will score more points on Saturday?
The Gophers win ugly. Minnesota 23, Northwestern 10.