Opponent Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers
WNUR’s Nick Scoliard breaks down the Gophers’ positions and explains how Northwestern can capitalize against them.
Northwestern is coming off one of their worst performances in recent memory, losing 35-6 to the Wisconsin Badgers last Saturday. The ‘Cats have to make a quick turnaround, facing the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday. The Golden Gophers are coming off a bye, but have a record of 4-2, 0-2 in conference, exactly like the ‘Cats.
Quarterbacks- Phillip Nelson, Mitch Leidner
Minnesota has got a quarterback controversy on its hands. While Nelson began the season as the starter, he lost the job after four starts, putting up a stat line of 33 for 65 for 380 yards, two TDs and four INTs. Leidner got the official start against Michigan, after starting against San Jose because of Nelson being hampered by a hamstring injury, and even though he lost, he still created a lot of yards for the Gophers’ offense. In just two starts, and a few snaps in other games, Leidner has put up a line of 26 for 41 for 321 yards, with a TD and an INT. Both QBs are nimble on their feet, with Nelson gaining 203 yards and three TDs and Leidner gaining 317 yards with five TDs. Leidner really gained traction for the starting job after a 150 yard, three TD game against San Jose State. Leidner will pose a threat with his legs, but passing, he isn’t as skilled as Joel Stave. Lediner gained only 145 yards against Michigan, and in the San Jose State game, he only gained 71 yards, and completed 5 of 12 passes. However, he has been the leading rusher in each of his starts, and has led his offense through the ground game. After a tough stretch of Carlos Hyde, Melvin Gordon, and James White, the ‘Cats will get no break on the run, as Leidner will pose a significant challenge to contain on the ground.
Running Backs- David Cobb, Rodrick Williams Jr
The ‘Cats don’t get to escape a running back tandem just yet. Although not as deadly as Gordon-White, the Williams-Cobb backfield has racked up 706 yards and eight TDs in 128 carries. The Gophers like to play their offense through the ground, and it starts with Cobb and Williams. Cobb started as the third string RB on the depth chart this season, but has emerged as the top back, as he has the most TDs and yards on the team. Northwestern will really need to fight the run against the Gophers to stop the nimble quarterbacks and these talented runners.
Receivers – Derrick Engel, Maxx Williams
The key threats in the passing game are WR Engel and TE Williams. Both are the only receivers on the roster with 10 receptions or more or 100 yards or more. They are also the only receivers to have scored a touchdown. Though they only have 24 receptions between them, they have gained a massive 335 yards through the air, giving them almost 14 yards per reception. The Gophers rely on the long bomb as only 3 receivers with a reception so far have an YPR less than 10, and the total team average is 11.9 YPR. The Gophers enjoy throwing the long bomb, and look for Williams and Engel to be on the receiving end of most of them.
The Gophers defense has been less than outstanding all year. They have only seven sacks through six games, and only caused seven turnovers. They’ve allowed 24.2 points per game, giving up 32.5 in conference play. While they have only allowed 128.3 yards rushing per game, they’ve allowed 383.8 yards through the air. After Siemian’s shaky game last week, and Colter’s questionable status, it’s unclear if the ‘Cats will be able to attack the Gophers through the air, but if they want to win, Siemian has to play much better than he did last week.
Unfortunately, the X factor for this game is the absence of Jerry Kill. Kill has battled epilepsy through his career, leading to multiple game day seizures that scared players, staff, and fans alike. Kill has announced an indefinite leave to help manage his epilepsy, leaving a gap in the coaching staff. Playing without their coach undoubtedly has an effect on the team, and everyone hopes that Kill returns to the field soon. However, until he is ready to come back, the Gophers face a challenge without their leading man.