Even more than the Gophers, Northwestern was the surprise of the Big Ten in September, climbing into the Top 25 before being deflated by Penn State.
GOPHERS OFFENSE VS. WILDCATS DEFENSE
For all the speculation over how (or whether) the Gophers utilize MarQueis Gray, it's Max Shortell who could have a big day, given Northwestern's considerable (and last in the Big Ten) problems defending the pass. But Gray's running could be critical, too, because the Gophers want to win the possession battle and keep the Wildcats' offense off the field. When they avoid mistakes, the Gophers have been able to move the ball. Advantage: Gophers
GOPHERS DEFENSE VS. WILDCATS OFFENSE
Northwestern has weapons, and imaginative ways to use them, including playing two quarterbacks at once, with Kain Colter shifting to slot receiver. Third downs will be crucial; when Penn State limited Northwestern to 4-for-13 on third downs, the Wildcats fizzled. The Gophers have played three spread teams already, so they shouldn't be surprised by the pace. Advantage: Northwestern
The Gophers have emphasized this area because junior Venric Mark has returned two punts for touchdowns this season. But that's not the Wildcats' only weapon; kicker Jeff Budzien is 11-for-11 on field goals. The Gophers are strong on kick coverage but only 4-for-9 on field goals. Advantage: Northwestern
Home field, a week off, an opponent that appeared far less formidable last week at Penn State -- the Gophers have a lot going for them this week. Will the rain that appears headed this way be a neutralizer? Advantage: Gophers
The game gets as sloppy as the weather, full of big swings. All four quarterbacks make big plays, but MarQueis Gray makes his return a memorable one with a couple of touchdown runs to help the Gophers win in their first true shootout of the season.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
Consecutive Gophers losses to Northwestern; Minnesota has lost three straight only twice in the series.
TDs by Venric Mark -- six runs, one reception, two punt returns.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT
Junior safety has recovered from a sore knee, greatly beefing up Gophers' run defense.