THE CALL BY JOE CHRISTENSEN • JCHRISTENSEN@STARTRIBUNE.com

THE OPPONENT

Northwestern looked impressive two weeks ago in a 40-30 loss to No. 4 Ohio State but took a step back in last week’s 35-6 loss at Wisconsin.

11 a.m. Ryan Field • TV: ESPN2 • Radio: 100.3 FM

Line: Northwestern by 12½ • Series: Gophers lead 50-33-5

Gophers offense vs. Wildcats defense

The Gophers see a chance to re-establish their running game against a Northwestern defense that gave up 248 yards rushing to Ohio State and 286 against Wisconsin. Northwestern also ranks last in the Big Ten in pass defense, allowing 279 yards per game. But the Wildcats also have created the most turnovers (17) of any conference team. Advantage: Northwestern

Wildcats offense vs. Gophers defense

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark are both questionable because of ankle injuries. Colter is considered the more likely of the two to play. When healthy, he splits time with Trevor Siemian. Colter is the better runner, Siemian the better passer. The Gophers need to generate better pass pressure than they have in compiling one sack the past three games. Wisconsin sacked Northwestern seven times. Advantage: Northwestern

Special teams

Mark was an All-America punt returner last year. This is where his ankle injury has hurt Northwestern the most. They aren’t as dangerous on special teams, and the Gophers have one of the Big Ten’s better return men in Marcus Jones. Advantage: Gophers

Intangibles

This will be the Gophers’ first game since coach Jerry Kill began a leave to treat his epilepsy. The Gophers are coming off a bye week, and Northwestern is banged up. The Wildcats have won five of their past six games against Minnesota, but this seems like the right time to play them. Advantage: Gophers

Prediction

Whether they’ve won or lost, the Gophers have yet to play a game decided by fewer than 16 points this year. Their games against Northwestern are often close (though frustrating). Saturday brings more of the same — a better effort for the Gophers than the past two weeks, but a loss.

 

Northwestern 32

Gophers 24

NUMBER TO KNOW

18

Combined third downs converted by Gophers’ four nonconference opponents (in 57 tries) and combined third downs converted vs. Gophers by Iowa and Michigan (in 27 tries).

DON’T FORGET ABOUT …

Tony Jones

Northwestern WR had nine catches for 185 yards vs. Syracuse.