Northwestern heads into Saturday to take on a 9-1 Minnesota team at home that is still clinging on to playoff aspirations . The Gophers are coming off their first loss of the season — will Northwestern be the perfect shot at a comeback, or will the ‘Cats get lucky and pull off a monumental update on Senior Day?
Why Northwestern will beat Minnesota
Tanner Morgan’s status is still up in the air
Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan is in concussion protocol, according to the latest update from head coach P.J. Fleck. Morgan was injured during the final possession of the Iowa game, and it is unlikely Fleck will announce whether he will be under center until Saturday. Morgan has impressed so far this season — he has thrown for 2,468 yards and 22 touchdowns, with only four interceptions and a 68.1 percent completion rate.
This leaves Minnesota in a tricky situation offensively — true freshman Cole Kramer stepped in for Morgan last weekend and threw an incomplete pass and an interception. Tough. Northwestern’s chances of pulling off the upset are slim no matters who lines up under center for the Gophers, but no Morgan would certainly give NU a huge boost.
Minnesota’s momentum has run out
After surviving Penn State to stay undefeated, Minnesota fell to Iowa and the impressive Hawkeye defense (I mean, they did shut Northwestern out. So they must be amazing.) Now 9-1, the Gophers come to Evanston needing to prove something. They are off their game, so maybe Northwestern can take advantage of that and give them their second loss. Maybe? Probably not? I’m trying here.
Why Northwestern won’t beat Minnesota
Poor defensive coverage vs. a good passing offense
Minnesota currently has the most efficient passing offense in the Big Ten, which is surprising for a team that normally relies on their strong run game. But during the Iowa game, it was clear that Minnesota fell back on their passing game. And though it was not the usual Minnesota offense, the Gophers’ strong lineup of wide receivers kept them alive: Tyler Johnson had nine receptions for 170 receiving yards and one touchdown, Rashod Bateman had six receptions for 98 yards, and Demetrius Douglas had four receptions for 60 yards.
WIth NU’s secondary showing vulnerability in recent weeks, this has the potential to be a nightmare matchup for the ‘Cats on Saturday.
Minnesota’s offensive line
The Gophers’ offensive line boasts both size and experience, and combined with three strong running backs, it is obvious why the line has been one of the strengths of this Minnesota team. Tackles like Daniel Faalele (who is a casual 6-foot-9 and 400 pounds) and Sam Schlueter will make like difficult for Northwestern’s strong front-seven.
The Gophers are just the far better team and have been all season
Yup, that’s pretty much the bottom line here. Also, Andrew Marty will likely start at QB for the ‘Cats, so there’s that as well.