After securing the Big Ten West crown with a gritty road win over Iowa a week ago, Northwestern (6-4, 6-1 Big Ten) will look to keep the momentum going against Minnesota (5-5, 2-5), with a trip to Indianapolis just a few weeks away. Helping the Wildcats lock up the division title with a win over Purdue, the Golden Gophers will no longer be able to play spoiler for Northwestern in a game that is largely inconsequential. Here are three things to know about Minnesota:
Wide receiver Tyler Johnson is one of the nation’s best
Posting 948 yards on 62 catches in his 10 starts, the junior receiver will appear on draft boards this April should he choose to declare. Johnson ranks No. 14 in the country in receiving yards, and his nine receiving touchdowns are good enough to place him amongst nation’s top 10. He’s eclipsed 100 yards six times this season and most recently was a problem against Purdue, catching five balls for 73 yards and a score. With star defensive back Montre Hartage (maybe the best cornerback in the Big Ten) out this weekend for Northwestern, Johnson could pose a major problem for the Wildcats’ secondary.
The Gophers’ offense is better statistically than Northwestern’s
Minnesota has had a rough go of it in Big Ten play this year, giving up 30 or more points in every conference game sans last Saturday’s win over the Boilermakers. Nevertheless, the Gophers’ offense hasn’t been as bad and ranks higher than the Wildcats’ unit almost across the board. Averaging 29 points per game, Minnesota’s offense ranks 78th in the country in total offensive yards and 68th in total points; Northwestern comes in at 108th and 102nd in those categories, respectively. The Gophers also boast a higher S&P+ (54th compared to 76th) and offense-specific S&P+ (78th compared to 109th) than the Wildcats. Of course, Northwestern will happily take its Big Ten Championship berth over Minnesota’s statistically-superior offense, but the Gophers do have the firepower to keep pace this Saturday. Tyler Johnson and running back Mohamed Ibrahim — who has 717 yards on just 125 carries (5.7 average) — won’t give Northwestern’s defense the week off.
Don’t expect to see the yellow flag on the field much this weekend. Saturday’s matchup features two of the country’s most disciplined teams, which should be good for the overall flow of the game. Committing just 4.2 penalties per game, Minnesota is the seventh-least penalized team out of all FBS schools. With just 3.3 fouls called against them per game over their last three contests, the Gophers won’t beat themselves with back-breaking holding calls or killer penalties when trying to get off the field on third down. Neither will Northwestern, though, as the Wildcats are the most disciplined team in the nation, averaging just 3.1 penalties per game.