Don’t Hate the Player: Week 8 vs. Minnesota

WNUR Sports Online Content Director Cameron Songer (@CameronSonger) uses NCAA Football 14 to predict a winner in Northwestern’s matchup against Minnesota.

Northwestern welcomes a struggling Minnesota Golden Gophers squad to Ryan Field this week. The Wildcats lost both of their first two simulated games in conference play, while the Gophers have losses against Iowa and Michigan and are also looking for their first conference win.

Key Players on Northwestern

SS Ibraheim Campbell (JR): 91 Overall, 88 speed
QB Kain Colter (SR): 91 Overall, 86 agility
HB Venric Mark (SR): 89 Overall, 92 speed

Key players on Minnesota
DT Ra’Shede Hageman (SR): 88 Overall, 87 strength
CB Aaron Hill (SR): 83 Overall, 85 awareness
HB Donnell Kirkwood (JR): 83 Overall, 85 stiff arm

Matchup
Northwestern: Overall: B, Offense: B, Defense: B
Minnesota: Overall: C+, Offense: C+, Defense: B-

Northwestern Game Recap
The Wildcats went three-and-out on the game’s opening possession, but fumbled the snap on the punt. Minnesota recovered, but settled for a field goal after a stand by Northwestern’s defense. 3-0, Minnesota. Northwestern converted a pair of third-and-short situations during a 10-play drive to score the game’s first touchdown. Venric Mark scored on a 2-yard run to put the ‘Cats up, 7-3. Minnesota’s next possession saw the visitors drive into the red zone, only to come up with another field goal.

Northwestern started the second quarter with a 7-6 lead and a bit of a drive going.. Northwestern moved past midfield, but suffered a huge loss of momentum, as a Venric Mark shoulder injury was followed by a holding call, which led to a long field goal miss by Jeff Budzien. The teams exchanged punts for much of the second quarter, until the two-minute mark when Northwestern’s C.J. Bryant intercepted a pass near midfield. The Wildcats ultimately punted, but another defensive stand assured them of good field position as they tried to add more points in the final minute of the half. A 43-yard strike from Kain Colter to Christian Jones gave them an opportunity in the red zone.

The Wildcats didn't score on this long pass to Christian Jones, but it was a big play.

The Wildcats didn’t score on this long pass to Christian Jones, but it was a big play.

With 30 seconds left in the half and a 1-point lead, the ‘Cats faced 4th and 1 from the Minnesota 5. While 3 points looked enticing in a low-scoring game, the offense stayed on the field and Mike Trumpy picked up just enough yards. The very next play was a TD pass to Rashad Lawrence, and the Wildcats led 14-6 at the break.

Minnesota had just 14 yards rushing on 11 carries in the first half, and Northwestern used its moderate success in the ground game to set up a few deep passes. On the other side, Northwestern’s defense held the Golden Gophers to less than 90 yards of total offense in the first half.

Minnesota managed one first down on the first possession of the second half, but Northwestern came back with a 6 play, 66 yard drive which ended with a short TD run by Mike Trumpy. Northwestern’s lead was 21-6. The only other relevant play of the third quarter was an injury to Minnesota starting QB Philip Nelson. His backup, Dexter Foreman, didn’t fare much better, as both offenses struggled for most of the quarter. Northwestern held a 15 point lead at the start of the fourth quarter.

After more offensive woes, Minnesota finally strung together their first touchdown drive, an impressive 7 play, 53 yard drive which ended with a short TD run and 2-point conversion to cut the Northwestern lead to 21-14. Northwestern got the ball with 3:30 on the game clock, earned one first down, then had to punt. Minnesota would have the opportunity to run a two-minute offense to try to force overtime. After a pair of incompletions, Foreman connected with Marcus Jones for 40 yards, putting the ball in Northwestern territory with about 90 seconds to play. Three more incompletions set up a decisive 4th and 10 from the Northwestern 41. Unfortunately, Minnesota hit a 27 yard pass over the middle to extend the game with a minute to go. Again, Northwestern’s defense forced a fourth down, this time a 4th and 3 from the 5. Again, Minnesota came up big in the clutch, completing a TD pass to Jones to tie the game with 40 seconds left. Northwestern wasn’t able to move into field goal range, letting time expire, so the game went into overtime.

Northwestern needed just three plays to score in overtime, with Kyle Prater receiving a short pass and shrugging off defenders for a touchdown. Minnesota drew a pass interference on the first play of their first OT possession, but moved just four yards on their next three plays. The Gophers then faced 4th and goal from the 6, needing a touchdown to extend the game. The pass went to Minnesota’s top receiver, Devin Crawford-Tuft, on a comeback route in the endzone, but the pass slipped through his hands. Game over. Northwestern 28, Minnesota 21.

Kyle Prater is a beast in NCAA Football 14. The wide receiver scored the game winning touchdown in overtime.

Kyle Prater is a beast in NCAA Football 14. The wide receiver scored the game winning touchdown in overtime.

Final Thoughts
These two teams played pretty evenly, and both were pretty sloppy. Northwestern boasted an advantage of more than 100 total yards over the visitors, yet won on a dropped pass. Neither team played well on third down, with Minnesota’s 37% success rate on third downs edging Northwestern’s 27%. I’d prefer to not think about the fact that Northwestern blew a 15 point lead in the 4th quarter, since Minnesota didn’t lead after the halfway point of the first quarter. The game’s most telling stat was the rushing yards, with Northwestern’s 76 yards on 3.0 yards per carry beating Minnesota’s 71 yards on 2.2 yards per carry. Big Ten football, everyone!

Big Games This Week
Oklahoma State 38, TCU 21
USC 31, Notre Dame 17
UCLA 24, Stanford 21
Clemson 41, Florida State 24

Around the Big Ten
Purdue 28, Michigan State 21
Illinois 30, Wisconsin 21
Michigan 25, Indiana 24
Ohio State 34, Iowa 0

Heisman Top 5
Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Daniel Sams, QB, Kansas State
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

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