For the first time this season, the 9-1 Gophers have to rebound from a loss. Northwestern is winless in the Big Ten but won the West last season. The Wildcats have also beaten the Gophers the past two seasons and in the past two meetings at Ryan Field, with a combined 66-0 score line.
Prediction: Gophers 24, Northwestern 0
THREE BIG STORY LINES
Gophers starting quarterback Tanner Morgan has been in concussion protocol after back-to-back sacks late in the loss Saturday to Iowa. Two true freshman backups, Cole Kramer and Jacob Clark, have competed to replace him, though wildcat quarterback Seth Green is also an option.
Wildcats’ winning woes
Northwestern’s offense ranks 125th of 130 FBS teams, averaging just 290.9 yards per game. That could be even worse against the Gophers, as quarterback Aidan Smith is doubtful to play, leaving Andrew Marty to possibly make his first start.
Defense better than stats
The Wildcats defense ranks 33rd in the FBS, allowing 344.5 yards per game. That’s even with the offense on the field for only about 29 minutes a game.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Northwestern DE Joe Gaziano vs. Gophers offensive line
Gaziano is just a half-sack away from tying the school record of 28 and is also the nation’s active leader in forced fumbles with 10. The senior could exploit a Gophers O-line that allowed six sacks at Iowa.
Northwestern RB Evan Hull vs. Gophers LB Kamal Martin
Hull, from Maple Grove, made his first start a week ago against UMass, which has the worst defense in the FBS. But the freshman produced 220 rushing yards and a school-record four touchdowns. He’ll have to prove that wasn’t a fluke against his home-state team filled with such local stars as Burnsville’s Martin. Martin returned from injury at Iowa but made only three tackles.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
6 years, one month and four days since the Gophers scored a point in Evanston, Ill. The Gophers average more than 35 points per game and hadn’t scored fewer than 28 heading into Iowa. But Kinnick Stadium held them to 19.
THE Gophers WILL WIN IF …
Morgan plays. It’s really that simple. But they’ll still have a great chance of winning with Kramer, Clark, Green or some combination of them. Northwestern’s offense is not a threat whatsoever, so as long as the Gophers put up some points and don’t dig an early hole like a week ago at Iowa, they’re fine.
Northwestern WILL WIN IF …
The defense exploits a true freshman quarterback starting his first game. The Wildcats could stop the run and force a first-time starter to throw. The Gophers wideouts are great, but they still need an accurate QB.