Northwestern juggernaut next for Minnesota

John R. Carter

With all the attention from last season’s 41-35 Northwestern win over Minnesota stolen by a stunning, game-winning Hail Mary pass as time expired, it’s hard to remember what exactly happened to the Gophers the previous 60 minutes.

The play of Damien Anderson and Zak Kustok, that’s what.

The Wildcats’ dynamic duo – the former a 5-foot-11 running back, the latter a 6-foot-1 quarterback – caused Minnesota’s biggest headache of the year.

If 2000 was a symptom, Minnesota better start popping the Advil.

Anderson rushed for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Kustok passed for 209 yards, ran for another 90, threw two scores and ran for two more.

The Gophers get to deal with Anderson and Kustok all over again on Saturday.

“They are very good and they are very hard to stop,” Gophers safety Jack Brewer said. “They are two of the best in the country.”

Besides pacing a comeback from 21 points down to beat the Gophers, Anderson and Kustok were a factor in the rest of Northwestern’s surprising season last year.

The pair sparked the Wildcats – picked by most to finish dead last in the conference – to an 8-3 regular season mark, a co-share of the Big Ten title and a berth in the Alamo Bowl.

Anderson was second in the nation in rushing behind TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson with 2,063 yards, a first-team All-American and the fifth-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Kustok, although not recognized like Anderson with personal accolades, was the signal-caller on the nations third-most-productive offense.

“It’s on my shoulders for the offense to be successful,” Kustok said. “As the quarterback it’s your job to be the leader out there. All I concern myself with is trying to win football games.”

Win they did in 2000, which made Northwestern the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten this season.

Last season Anderson, Kustok and the Wildcats were the hunters, sneaking up on everyone each week. This year, they’re the hunted and have everyone gunning for them.

So you’d think defenses on Northwestern’s schedule would have ample time to prepare for the two, thus be ready to slow the entire Wildcats team down.

Think again.

Anderson is third in the conference with over 114 rushing yards per game. Kustok is also third in the Big Ten in passing, throwing for 224 yards per game. Northwestern is 3-1 despite a 38-20 beating from Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday.

But what makes the Wildcats offense so unpredictable is Kustok’s legs, not his arm. The senior’s mobility accounts for almost 58 yards per game – the most for a Big Ten quarterback not named Antwaan Randle El.

“A defense has to pick their poison,” Anderson said. “Zak and I can beat you running the ball, he can beat you throwing. We make things happen with a lot of aspects of our game.”

Added coach Gophers coach Glen Mason, “When you put those guys together as a running combination, they present a unique threat.”

Anderson and Kustok account for 395 of Northwestern’s league leading 444 yards of total offense per game – 89 percent of the Wildcat’s out put.

The Gophers better be 100 percent ready to face Northwestern’s double dose of offensive firepower on Saturday, or loss number four will be the punishment.