Game Preview: Northwestern Wildcats-Minnesota Golden Gophers

Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

The Northwestern Wildcats are no longer perfect. That’s thanks to last week’s 11 point collapse in the 4th quarter and the right arm of Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Matt McGloin. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald is known for his phrase “flush it” after a bad loss and there’s little doubt that wasn’t used multiple times this week in Evanston. The 2012 Wildcats have plenty they still want to accomplish and even a Rose Bowl bid could happen if everything goes right. First things first though as the Wildcats visit beautiful TCF Bank Stadium to take on the pesky Minnesota Golden Gophers.

EYE ON THE ENEMY:

Jerry Kill‘s young squad is off to a good start led by a strong run game and defense. They’ve had two weeks to think about the egg they laid against the Iowa Hawkeyes and should be ready to come out firing. They’ve got a bit of a quarterback controversy as both former starter MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell are splitting reps in practice and Coach Kill has been rather coy about his plans for both. Shortell is a pocket passer who is expected to start despite his disaster game in Iowa City. Gray is more of a runner who is used in many running “Wildcat” looks although he will throw the occasional deep ball.

The Gophers defense was run over in Iowa City. Hawkeyes tailback Mark Weisman ran for over 150 yards on the ground in the first half also. They are more than happy to not see a traditional pro style offense this week as Northwestern employs a spread offense look.

Minnesota is at a big point in their season. They really need this win to all but assure themselves of a bowl game trip. After their late season success last year they want to keep the “carryover” effect going.

KEYS FOR THE CATS:

- Run the football a lot. I don’t care if that’s with quarterback Kain Colter, running backs Venric Mark or Mike Trumpy, just run. This is an undersized Minnesota front that lost a huge piece at linebacker when Gary Tinsley died in the offense. The Gophers defensive line had to replace 2 starters and they are thin. Run early and you’ll force Minnesota to bring a safety into the box and play man on the outside.

- Be careful with the no huddle. As we saw against Penn State, the Northwestern defense can hold their own but they don’t have incredible depth. You can’t afford to wear down again in the 4th quarter. I’d use the hurry up in spurts but not exclusively.

- Work the screen, draw game. Mark is such a weapon despite that the Wildcats haven’t used him enough in the screen game especially flexing him outside. You have good blocking wide receivers. Get them downfield and give the ball to #5 with time to gain speed.

- Don’t blitz too much on defense. You should be able to get pressure against Minnesota’s relatively weak o-line. On film, Shortell is much better against the blitz than when he has to pick apart a zone defense. Make him dink and dunk his way down the field.

- Get Kyle Prater the ball. He’s been underused I believe early on. Yes, he clearly isn’t in top shape but his size alone should allow him to do work on the outside. The much maligned Minnesota secondary is playing much better but the competition hasn’t been great. Test them off play action in particular.

PREDICTION:

Northwestern’s gone through October swoons in the past that have killed any early season buzz they’ve gained. This year feels different for some reason. Maybe they really did need to learn to lose before they can win. I do think Minnesota will make a bowl game (Buffalo Wild Wings) but they won’t grab this one. Northwestern 31 – Minnesota 21.

 

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