Football Preview: Northwestern vs. Minnesota
By Kendall Wright
Following a road loss last week against the Duke Blue Devils, the Northwestern football team (1-2, 0-1 B1G) returns home to play the Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1, 0-0 B1G) – a team that beat Northwestern last season 31-3.
Minnesota is coming off their first loss of the season, a blowout at the hands of the then-No. 20 North Carolina Tar Heels in one of many Big Ten-ACC non-conference football matchups. The Golden Gophers hope that a win against the Wildcats can serve as a bounce-back game and put them in contention for the Big Ten West title down the road.
To defeat Minnesota, the ‘Cats’ defense should force Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis to resort to throwing the football as the Golden Gophers pose less of a threat in the passing game than the running game. Through three games, Kaliakmanis has only totaled one passing touchdown.
Minnesota running back Darius Taylor is someone who the Wildcats have to limit on the Golden Gophers’ side if they want to avoid Minnesota taking long drives down the field. The freshman running back has compiled over 300 rushing yards over the last two games, nearly breaking 200 rushing yards in a game against Eastern Michigan. Northwestern linebacker Bryce Gallagher, who leads the Big Ten in total tackles, must continue anchoring the defense by filling in the gaps to prevent Minnesota from setting the tone on the ground early.
As for the offensive side of the ball, Northwestern must have better quarterback play as the Wildcats enter their conference schedule with a clash with No. 7 Penn State next week. Quarterback Ben Bryant has thrown three interceptions so far, paired with a low completion percentage of approximately 55%. Northwestern should prioritize developing cleaner routes for wide receivers A.J. Henning and Cam Johnson to get open and give Bryant better opportunities to distribute the ball to his receivers.
Though Northwestern has a slight edge over Minnesota on third-down efficiency, it still remains less than 50% and could be significantly better. If Northwestern poses an inability to convert on third downs, the three-and-outs will pile up and subsequently the defensive snaps will pile up as well.
The Wildcats loss to Rutgers in Week 1 was a rough start to conference play, but with the ‘Cats back at Ryan Field, the team’s tenacity and grit will be at an all-time high. A win here would bring the ‘Cats to 1-1 in conference and add an early-season bright spot to a football program that dealt with notable turmoil in recent months. The stadium will for sure be loud as it will be the first home game with all students back on campus.
Bradley Locker and David Gold have the call for WNUR Sports with kickoff set for 6:30 p.m. CST on Saturday, September 23.