GOPHERS OFFENSE VS. WILDCATS DEFENSE

Northwestern’s D-line features two 300-pounders in the middle and 290-pound end Dean Lowry. That group wreaks havoc, freeing the linebackers to make tackles. Safety Godwin Igwebuike is set to return from a head injury, but key reserve Kyle Queiro is out with a broken arm. Advantage: Wildcats

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Both teams have good kickers. Peter Mortell gives the Gophers an edge at punter, but punt returner Craig James fumbled three times last week. Advantage: Wildcats

THE OPPONENT

Northwestern is 20-2 in September games since 2010, but the Wildcats have faded every year during this stretch, except 2012, when they went 10-3. Last month’s wins over Stanford and Duke were legitimate, but No. 16 Northwestern must prove it has the depth to hold up to the Big Ten grind.

 

PLAYER TO WATCH

Northwestern sophomore linebacker Anthony Walker is a missile from Miami who ranks third in the Big Ten with 41 tackles, including 19 against Duke, and three tackles for a loss against Stanford.

GOPHERS DEFENSE VS. WILDCATS OFFENSE

Freshman QB Clayton Thorson burst for a 42-yard touchdown run against Stanford. He throws a nice ball but can be rattled into interceptions. Justin Jackson ranks second in the Big Ten with 516 rushing yards. LT Geoff Mogus is out after suffering an upper-body injury last week. Advantage: Gophers

 

INTANGIBLES

The Gophers upset Northwestern in Evanston two years ago and used a 100-yard Jalen Myrick kickoff return to beat the Wildcats 24-17 last year. Those experiences help. Advantage: Gophers

 

 

JOE’S PREDICTION

 

17            16

MINN      NW

Nonconference play was a grind for the Gophers. They are banged up, but otherwise prepared to handle a familiar opponent in a not-so-hostile road environment.