Minnesota (2-8) at Northwestern (5-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 19th, 12:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Ryan Field (47,130) -- Evanston, Illinois. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Minnesota 2-4, Northwestern 2-2. Away Record: Minnesota 0-4, Northwestern 3-3. Neutral Record: Minnesota 0-0, Northwestern 0-0. Conference Record: Minnesota 1-5, Northwestern 2-4. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 50-32-5.
GAME NOTES: The Minnesota Golden Gophers will try to keep Northwestern from becoming bowl eligible this weekend as the two teams get set for a Big Ten clash in Evanston.
Minnesota has already lost the chance to earn a postseason berth, and are losers of two straight after Wisconsin pounded the Gophers 42-13 in Minneapolis last weekend. The Gophers managed just 156 total yards on offense in the game, while the Badgers running attack sliced Minnesota's defense all day. Minnesota will wrap up the 2011 season next weekend when it hosts Illinois.
Northwestern pulled within one game of a bowl berth last weekend at home, beating Rice 28-6. The Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten at the moment, and have turned their season around dramatically since losing five straight from late September to late October. Northwestern has now won three straight games, including an upset win over Nebraska in Lincoln on November 5th.
Minnesota leads the all-time series with Northwestern, 50-32-5.
Minnesota couldn't gain any traction when it had the football last weekend against the vaunted Wisconsin defense. MarQueis Gray completed just 6-of-14 passes for 51 yards and one interception, although he added 68-hard fought rushing yards on 19 carries. The Gophers had 105 yards rushing on 32 carries, but picked up just nine first downs.
Gray is seventh in the Big Ten in total offense, accounting for 213.8 yards per game, although it has been apparent all season long that the versatile quarterback is more comfortable freelancing with his feet than hanging in the pocket to make throws. Gray, who is eighth in the Big Ten in rushing with 71 yards per game, has thrown for just 1,286 yards and seven touchdowns against seven interceptions this season. Despite his struggles to accumulate yards through the air, Da'Jon McKnight is sixth in the Big Ten with 45 catches, and has scored four touchdowns this season.
The Wisconsin offense, in contrast, was the latest Big 10 attack to cut down a struggling Gophers defense. The Badgers posted 283 yards rushing and two touchdowns - both scores coming from Montee Ball, who gained 166 yards on 23 carries. Russell Wilson completed 16-of-17 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns. It has been that type of year for the Minnesota defense, which is 11th in the league in total defense (430.9), 11th in scoring defense (34.5) and 11th in rushing defense (200.3). The Gophers are also at the bottom of the national barrel in both sacks and tackles for loss. The unit is led by Kim Royston, who is fifth in the Big Ten with 9.3 tackles per game.
Northwestern's win over Rice was earmarked with a career day from quarterback Dan Persa, who threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns in the win. Jeremy Ebert was a benefactor of Persa's big day, catching seven passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Kain Colter had another all-around day for Northwestern as well, as he completed a pass for 14 yards, ran nine times for 39 yards and caught five passes for 27 yards and one touchdown in the win.
Persa and Colter have been the key cogs in the three game win streak for Northwestern. Persa threw for 261 yards and three scores against Indiana to start the streak, while Colter was the hero in Lincoln, throwing for 115 yards, rushing for 57 more and two touchdowns and leading the receiving core with three catches for 57 yards. Both had their hands in last weeks non- conference win over Rice, and both will be instrumental come Saturday against Minnesota. Persa leads the conference's best passing attack, which is averaging 261 yards per game. Colter leads the team in rushing with 55.5 yards per outing, and accounts for 121.5 yards per game. Northwestern is second in the Big Ten with 445.5 yards per game.
The Northwestern defense held Rice to just 135 yards passing and 119 yards rushing last weekend, and forced the Owls quarterback Nick Fanuzzi to complete just 13-of-25 passes, with one of those passes being picked off. Northwestern's defense has been a work in progress all season long, but turned the corner when it held Nebraska's star running back Rex Burkhead to just 69 yards rushing on a day when the Huskers gained 122 yards on the ground and coughed up two fumbles. Northwestern is 10th in the league in both total defense (411.8) and scoring defense (28.3). Ibraheim Campbell leads the team in tackles with 7.4 per contest.
Minnesota hasn't shown any consistency on offense, and has shown a knack for giving up big play after big play on the defensive side of the ball all year long. That spells trouble for the Gophers on Saturday when they face Persa and company on offense, and a defense that is getting better each week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northwestern 42, Minnesota 21
11/16 10:42:07 ET