By: Bo Bowen
The Northwestern Wildcats have been on a roll lately, tallying five straight wins. Pat Fitzgerald’s team will look to continue that streak with the MInnesota Golden Gophers coming to Evanston on Saturday. Here are 5 things to watch for Saturday:
Justin Jackson looks to eclipse 1,000 yards again: The bell cow back for Northwestern looks to rush for at least 1,000 yards for the fourth straight season. Northwestern’s all-time leading rusher currently is sitting on 844 yards. Jackson would need to have a field day to reach the mark, but it’s still within the realm of possibility. Look for Northwestern to continue its zone run scheme to get the ball in Jackson’s hands.
Clayton Thorson’s Consistency: One of the biggest critiques of the junior quarterback has been his consistency this season. He passed for 296 yards and 1 TD against a tougher Purdue defense. Minnesota ranks third in the Big Ten in terms of pass defense, so Thorson will have a tough matchup in Evanston this weekend. Watch out for the connection with sophomore receiver Bennett Skowronek, who has emerged as one of Thorson’s top options this season.
Northwestern’s front 7 versus Minnesota’s running game: Northwestern currently sits at second in the Big Ten in terms of run defense. Many of the questions up front have been filled by the likes of Tyler Lancaster and Paddy Fisher. However, that run defense may be propped up by easier matchups with Nebraska and Purdue. Minnesota has a more dynamic running game than those teams with Rodney Smith leading the Gophers with 799 yards this season. This will be a game won in the trenches and on the ground. It starts with Northwestern’s line play.
Northwestern’s Secondary: After many preseason questions, Northwestern has finally figured out what works on the back end. One thing to look for is Minnesota’s dual-threat quarterback Demry Croft, who rushed for 183 yards against Nebraska this past weekend. With Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro playing their best football this year, it may be difficult for the Gophers to move the ball through the air.
Turnovers: Minnesota currently ranks second in the Big Ten in turnover Margin, with Northwestern hovering near the bottom. As we saw with Purdue, this may turn into a classic, Big Ten-style, slugfest. It’s going to be a cold, wet game in Evanston without much scoring. The Wildcats are going to have to take care of the ball if they want to come out on top.
There you have it. It’s going to be yet another Big Ten-style game: cold, wet, windy. Northwestern will look to keep the good times rolling and extend their winning streak to 6 games with first-year Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck and the Golden Gophers coming to town.