The Wildcats' win streak couldn't last forever. After taking down Penn State and Wisconsin to open the conference season, Northwestern fell to Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium. This time around the special teams slipped up, and NU's offense simply could not generate enough points. Here are the key stats from Saturday:
Trevor Siemian threw the football 50 times against Minnesota. That's a ton, especially for a team that discovered it's proficient running game last weekend. NU shouldn't overwork a true freshmen, but Justin Jackson proved against Wisconsin that he can take 33 carries and turn it into 162 yards. He got 23 rushes this week for 102 yards, still a very efficient day. Jackson almost averaged as many yards per carry, 4.6, as Siemian averaged per pass, 5.38. Even with how often Northwestern throws the ball, they are 69th in the country in pass yards per game and 107th in points for. The 'Cats have proven they can run effectively and should go to the ground more often.
This looks like a final score, but it's actually the number of first downs gained by each time. Northwestern moved the chains 28 times, while Minnesota did it just 14 times. That may not seem right at first but remember NU also out-gained the Gophers 393-274. Northwestern has a lot more options on offense than Minnesota. They have an array of talented wideouts and a capable quarterback. Perhaps NU doesn't have the offensive line of Minnesota, but overall the offense is just as talented, and yet all they want to do is grind out a first down on three plays. However, you can't convert 3rd-and-6 every time. The Northwestern offense has to take some shots and go downfield. What is there to risk anyway? The offense hasn't had a good game yet this season.
The other side of the ball kept NU in the game again. Northwestern's defense held David Cobb to 3.2 yards per carry, so his 30 rushes only amounted to 97 yards. The Gophers' senior back, who already has three 180+ yard rushing games this season, was bottled up by the defense and outplayed by Justin Jackson. The way NU keyed on Cobb came back to bite them several times though. Mitch Leidner averaged over 10 yards per attempt due to the defense's run emphasis. The loaded box helped Leidner complete three 20+ yard passes, inclduing a 52-yard toss to Maxx Williams. But overall, it was a great gameplan and a solid performance from the defense.
The shortest scoring drive in this game was 63 yards, and the average scoring drive was nearly 74 yards. These teams were literally playing a game of keep-away on the field Saturday. There were just two turnovers, both interceptions, and one came on the final play of the game. It was once again a battle of field position, and not once was either team given the ball in opponent's territory. After winning the turnover margin 4-0 against Wisconsin, the tables were turned on NU, who's average starting field position was their own 20. Minnesota's was their own 31. That's not a good formula for Northwestern who, as I noted earlier, struggles to sustain drives in their current offensive scheme. The Wildcats thrive off turnovers. There's no way they would have beat Wisconsin without their four interceptions. If the offense doesn't improve, NU is going to rely on better luck in the turnover margin.