Game Preview: Northwestern at Minnesota
On Saturday at 11 a.m. CST, the Northwestern Wildcats (5-1) look to take down the Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-1) as they travel to Minneapolis, MN. Following a devastating comeback loss last week that saw Penn State score 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, Northwestern will seek their sixth win and their fifth consecutive year of bowl eligibility.
Despite starting the season with four straight wins, the Golden Gophers also hope to overcome a 31-13 loss at the hands of Iowa last week. While many have questioned the strength of Minnesota’s schedule, their 17-10 win over Syracuse, the same team that caused Northwestern so much trouble in the first week of the season, proves that they are not a team to be trifled with.
Recently, the Cats have gotten the better of Minnesota, winning the last four of their five meetings since 2007. While Minnesota may hope to buck this trend, Coach Fitzgerald’s Wildcats will do all they can to keep that streak alive and lead the Cats to their sixth game.
Although many have Northwestern pegged as the victor in this matchup, the Wildcats will still have to focus on several keys on their march to victory.
1. Control the Ball: In wins over Boston College and Indiana, Northwestern ran more than 80 plays and were close to that in their victory over Vanderbilt with 76 plays. Last week, they didn’t even come close to this trend. Penn State controlled the ball for 39 minutes and never gave Northwestern the chance to get into an offensive rhythm. If they can control the ball, their offensive production should bounce back from their weak showing last week.
2. Venric Mark: Through the first half of the season, Venric Mark has been the electrifying player the Cats have needed him to be. To go along with his stellar running as the Cats leading rusher with 610 yards and 6 rushing touchdowns, Mark has also proven to be a deadly returner capable of busting out a big play. If he can continue to be the playmaker he has been all season the Cats are capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.
3. Pressure the QB: With senior QB MarQueis Gray likely being sidelined with an ankle sprain, sophomore Max Shortell will get the start at QB for a third consecutive week. While Shortell has shown improvement, his 4 INT’s and lack of mobility make him a great target for Northwestern’s defensive lineman. If Northwestern can get to Shortell in the backfield, expect a few sacks and some interceptions.
4. Finish Strong: This is not new for the Cardiac ‘Cats. As their name would suggest, Northwestern has knack for making every game close. Regardless of the score, Northwestern will always use the fourth quarter to lay off the gas or amp up the intensity. As long as Northwestern can grab an early lead and maintain that intensity, they should be able to avoid a heartbreaking loss. Will they live up to the name Cardiac Cats this weekend? Hopefully not.
Prediction: Northwestern 28-24.
Taking advantage of Venric Mark’s playmaking skills and an inexpiernced quarterback in Max Shortell, the Cats will jump out to an early lead and ride that momentum into the fourth quarter. However, living up to their nickname, the Cardiac Cats will bring the game to the wire, before prevailing at the last minute.