The 'Cats head back on the road for their third conference game. In the Twin Cities, they'll get a Minnesota team that doesn't look much different from Wisconsin. The Gophers rely on their ground game offensively and possess a defense ranked 19th nationally in points allowed. Even after NU's upset of Wisconsin, the 'Cats are about 4-point underdogs. Success in the these three key areas could swing the game their way:
1. Mix it up on offense
It took four weeks for Northwestern to find its running game. Justin Jackson led Northwestern to 4.4 yards per carry against Wisconsin, a staggering stat next to LSU's 2.7 ypc against the Badgers. All-around the offense improved as they posted their highest yards per play average of the season, and it came against an exceptionable Wisconsin defense. Northwestern finds a lot more ease in moving the ball when they are able to pass and run the ball. Pat Fitzgerald should find a good balance between Justin Jackson's touches and Siemian's dropbacks to keep the Minnesota defense on its toes. Northwestern has something that Minnesota, Wisconsin and Penn State don't have; a multi-faceted offense. They keep making use of it, and they'll continue to win.
2. Field position
I really think this game will look a lot like the Wisconsin game, minus some turnovers. Very few points will be put on the board as the teams go back-and-forth on offense, so again field position will be huge. Wisconsin's average starting field position against NU was their own 21.8 yard line. Northwestern's was the own 33.3. Some of that was created by turnovers, some by punting and some by defense. But in any case, starting 10+ yards farther upfield than your opponent makes a huge difference in a bruising, low-scoring affair.
3. Open field tackling
The Wildcats' front seven did an exceptional job bringing down Melvin Gordon last weekend. It was the secondary that allowed the Badgers' star running back to put up career-high numbers at Ryan Field. Cornerbacks and safeties took bad angles to the ball and missed tackles, so Gordon made them pay with huge runs. Luckily for NU, David Cobb isn't Melvin Gordon. At 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, Cobb is strong and powerful, but he doesn't have anything like the speed and agility of Gordon. It's a better match-up for NU's slower d-backs and again the Cats can key solely on the run. The Gophers beat San Jose St. with just one completed pass. It won't be that easy against NU if the 'Cats break down and make their open field tackles.