Will Northwestern be able to rebound from its first loss of the season to win a road game at Minnesota?
WildcatReport's staff breaks it down.
George "The Glad Hungarian" Stoichev
Northwestern wins if… For the sake of all that is holy, run the ball! Use the run...to set up the pass! Worried about defenders keying on the run? Let Kain Colter throw the ball! Do everything but what you did last week! You average almost five yards a carry and your offensive split is 60-40 pass? Why? Use Colter and Venric Mark to run the ball. The end.
Northwestern loses if… Minnesota finds a running game through Donnell Kirkwood, or MarQueis Gray comes back better than expected. If the Gophers eat clock and score points without relying on Max Shortell, the 'Cats will be in trouble.
The bottom line… I think the 'Cats will be much better this week. To be honest, I feel like PSU might have been the infamous "one game that we should win that we lose" for the 'Cats this year. I hope.
Prediction: Northwestern 35 Minnesota 24
Alex "Purple" Wayne
Northwestern wins if… Like all of the teams Northwestern has faced, the Wildcats' opponent can assemble the obvious strategy: to throw deep passes and rip apart the Wildcats' secondary as the way to beat them. The Northwestern imperative, and hence to deny the Gophers, would mean some timely performances by Nick VanHoose, Ibraheim Campbell and Chi Chi Ariguzo will destroy Minnesota's momentum. That would keep Minnesota from making ground while the Northwestern offense can work its magic and win the game.
Northwestern loses if… The Minnesota running game gets an opportunity to put on a show. They can slowly but certainly roll up yards and burn off the clock under the right circumstances. If Minny has the lead, this game could wind up looking like last year's game against Army. Watching Army run six yards a time from their triple-option set was like watching yourself bleed to death. If Minnesota can do as much, it's gonna be a long Saturday for 'Cats fans.
The bottom line… There's no way that Minnesota is adequately prepared, especially without Gray in the lineup. They flopped two weeks ago against one of the most doubtful Iowa teams in recent memory (in the Floyd of Rosedale game, no less). Northwestern can't pencil in a victory, but Minnesota will screw up just enough times to put Northwestern in the driver's seat. As eloquent as I may be, all I can think of to say it is that Northwestern is going to win on the basis of "intangibles."
Prediction: Northwestern 28, Minnesota 24 (those numbers may seem a little low, but I envision the four-point margin of victory just the same).
Danny "Less Is" Moran
Northwestern wins if… Colter averages five yards per carry on more than 10 rushes. He only ran the ball five times against Penn State after averaging 14 per game against FBS opponents.
Northwestern loses if… They cannot force turnovers from either Shortell or Gray, depending on which one ends up playing. The pair had only two combined picks in their four wins. Shortell had three in their loss to Iowa two weeks ago.
The bottom line... Minnesota's run defense is their weakness, which sets up Colter playing more quarterback than he has the past two weeks. Falling out of love with Colter as a WR is good for the Wildcats. The two-quarterback system, along with a healthy dose of Mark and Mike Trumpy, will take Minnesota down. Gray will not be seen much and if he does play, I don't expect him to have nearly the impact he could have before missing three full weeks.
Prediction: Northwestern 31 Minnesota 19
Larry "Kilo" Watts
Northwestern wins if… The Wildcat offense can regroup and put the ball in the hands of its playmakers in the right situations and the defense can shut down the Gophers' running game, including the quarterback.
Northwestern loses if… The loss at Penn State turns into two losses. Either Minny QB (Shortell or Gray) is capable of hurting the Cats with his feet as well as his arm, although Gray is the shiftier runner. Wide receiver and punt return man A.J. Barker is a big threat and the Cats must keep an eye on tight end John Rabe (3 TDs) in the red zone. The Wildcat offensive line cannot allow the Gophers' front four (10 sacks) to dominate the game while safety and leading tackler Derrick Wells is one of the best in the league.
The bottom line… Another Homecoming and another team with a week off to prepare for Northwestern. Minnesota is strong in all three phases of the game, so the key will be ball control and the Cats' ability to wear down the Gopher defense. Minnesota offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover is a former graduate assistant at Northwestern and will be especially fired up for this game.
Prediction: Another nail-biter and depth should make the difference. Northwestern 31, Minnesota 28.
Louie "C.K." Vaccher
Northwestern wins if… Offensive coordinator Mick McCall sticks to the mantra of Players-Formations-Plays and puts the ball in the hands of his playmakers (Colter and Mark) in critical situations. I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why those two guys got a combined one touch in the fourth quarter last week.
Northwestern loses if… The Gophers get the running game going and play keep-away with the Cats. If Minnesota can run the ball, that will open up the play-action pass, which could lead to a couple big plays in the passing game, and…well, you get the picture.
The bottom line... The Wildcats have to be kicking themselves for letting an 11-point fourth quarter lead slip away from them last week, and they know that losing a second in a row at this point could knock the train off the rails. This is going to be a hard-fought, tooth-and-nail kind of game (Jerry Kill-coached teams don't make it easy). I think the Cats have a couple more playmakers than the Gophers. To paraphrase the noted philosopher Keyshawn Johnson, the key will be to "give (them) the damn ball!"
Prediction: Northwestern 30 Minnesota 23