DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 13, 12:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: TCF Bank Stadium (50,805) -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Television: ESPN, ESPN2, BTN. Home Record: NU 4-0, UM 3-0. Away Record: NU 1-1, UM 1-1. Neutral Record: NU 0-0, UM 0-0. Conference Record: NU 1-1, UM 0-1. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 50-32-5.
GAME NOTES: A pair of Big Ten Conference teams hoping to bounce back from their first losses of the season square off in Minneapolis this Saturday, as the Northwestern Wildcats pay a visit to the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Northwestern took a 5-0 record into last week's conference clash at Penn State, and while the Wildcats had the upper hand through the first 45 minutes, they wound up on the short end of a 39-28 final. The loss evened the team's record in league action at 1-1, and prevented it from opening a season 6-0 for the first time since 1962.
The Golden Gophers were idle last week, affording them some extra time to prepare for this tilt with the Wildcats. Minnesota opened the year with four straight wins, but a 31-13 loss at Iowa on Sept. 29 has the team at 0-1 in conference. Including this week's game, the Gophers will play three of their next four, and four of their final seven in front of the hometown faithful.
Minnesota owns a 50-32-5 advantage in the all-time series with Northwestern, but the Wildcats have won four of the last five meetings.
Northwestern led Penn State 28-17 heading into the fourth quarter last Saturday, but the Nittany Lions came storming back to score 22 unanswered points and earn the double-digit victory. The Wildcats were limited to 247 total yards in less than 21 minutes of possession time, and they generated just 14 first downs. RB Venric Mark rushed for 72 yards and a TD, and he added another score on a 75-yard punt return near the end of the third quarter, becoming only the second player in school history to return two punts for TDs in the same season. A week after amassing 161 yards and four TDs on the ground, and 131 yards on nine receptions, Kain Colter was held to a combined 41 yards and a TD by the swarming PSU defense.
The Wildcats are averaging 32.8 points and 432.5 total yards per contest, while permitting 23.7 points and 392.2 yards per game. They more than double the opposition's rushing effort (233.5 ypg to 102.7 ypg), but average nearly 100 yards less in the passing game (199.0 ypg to 289.5 ypg). The team has scored a total of 20 TDs, 16 of which have come on the ground.
With regard to rushing totals, Mark leads the team with 615 yards, and he has scored six TDs, while Colter checks in with 395 yards and seven scores. Trevor Siemian has completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 812 yards with two TDs and one interception, while Colter has been as efficient (.662 completion percentage), posting 369 yards and the same TD-to-INT ratio. Demetrius Fields has a team-high 24 receptions, taking them for 199 yards and a TD.
The Northwestern defense stood tall for the first three quarters, but came up small in the final frame last week. Penn State finished with 443 yards of total offense, and picked up 30 first downs by converting 10-of-22 third-down chances and 5-of-6 fourth-down attempts. LB Damien Proby led four NU defenders in double-digit tackles with 16.
Proby sits atop the team's tackles list with 53, while Chi Chi Ariguzo is hot on his heels with 51. Ariguzo paces the club with 6.5 TFL, and he has an interception and two fumble recoveries as well. Tyler Scott has notched four of the team's 10 sacks -- no other player has more than one.
A lackluster offensive effort hurt Minnesota in its most recent outing against Iowa, as the team tallied just 299 yards in suffering its first defeat of the season. Max Shortell hit the mark on 20-of-33 passes for 197 yards with two TDs, but he was sacked twice and picked off three times. The running game was basically nonexistent, with Shortell leading the way with 46 yards on 16 carries. A.J. Barker led all players in the game with 74 receiving yards.
Defensively, the Gophers had no answer for Iowa running back Mark Weisman, who rumbled his way to 177 yards and a TD on 21 totes, averaging 8.4 ypc. A lack of big plays on defense cost the team dearly, as it failed to come up with a sack or turnover. No player had more than six tackles, and only two total stops took place in the Hawkeyes' backfield.
For the season, Minnesota is putting up 26.4 ppg while allowing 19.6 ppg, and the team typically generates close to 65 yards more per game than does the opposition. Donnell Kirkwood is UM's leading ground gainer with 394 yards and three TDs, and the team's quarterbacks, led by Shortell, have completed less than 56 percent of their pass attempts, with a total of 11 TDs and seven interceptions. Barker is clearly the Gophers' top option down the field, as he has 19 catches for 357 yards and four scores.
The Minnesota defense has done a decent job against the pass this year, yielding an average of 181.6 ypg, with only four passing TDs surrendered in five games. DB Derrick Wells leads the team with 36 tackles and two picks, while defensive ends DL Wilhite and RaShede Hageman have combined for 7.5 of the team's 11 sacks.
This should be an old-fashioned, smash-mouth Big Ten brawl between two teams that despite recent setbacks, haven't given up the dream of competing for a spot in the conference championship game. While it's clear that the Gophers have the home field advantage, the Wildcats are probably the better all-around team.