Daily Breakdown: Gophers aim for bowl eligibility against Northwestern

The Gophers, coming off a 54-21 victory, take on the 7-3 Wildcats in Evanston.

The Gophers celebrate a touchdown at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11.

Jack Rodgers

The Gophers celebrate a touchdown at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11.

Jack Warrick

Minnesota heads to Evanston on Saturday to take on No. 23 Northwestern. The Wildcats have won three Big Ten conference games in overtime this year and have beat four Big Ten team the Gophers lost to — Purdue, Michigan State, Iowa and Maryland.

The Gophers beat the Wildcats last year in the final home game of the season 29-12. It will be a tough one for the Gophers this year, as the Wildcats have won the last five in a row.

When Minnesota runs the ball:

The Gophers are coming off their best running game of the year and eighth-best running game of all time after a 409 total yards rushing game got them the 54-21 win against Nebraska. The six rushing touchdowns helped them get to their highest scoring game of the year. Gophers running back Rodney Smith and quarterback Demry Croft paced the running game with over 100 yard rushing yards each.

Northwestern’s defense has allowed just 247 total rushing yards in the past three games, and they are ranked second in the Big Ten in terms of rush defense. 

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: RB Rodney Smith vs. LB Paddy Fisher

When Northwestern runs the ball:

Northwestern is a passing team. In last week’s game against Purdue, the Wildcats rushed for 94 yards compared to 296 yards of passing on offense. Justin Jackson is their leader at the running back position. Jackson averages 84 yards per game and he has eight rushing touchdowns on the year.

Minnesota’s run defense gave up just 69 total yards rushing against Nebraska. However, two weeks ago at Michigan, the Wolverines ran for 371 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Minnesota’s run defense is ranked in the middle of Big Ten.

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: DT Steven Richardson vs. RB Justin Jackson

When Minnesota passes the ball:

The Gophers passing game has been made up mostly of one player: wide receiver Tyler Johnson. In recent weeks, teams have bottled Johnson up, as he only has 86 yards in the previous two games with no touchdowns. The Gophers offense is dominated by the run game, so the passing offense ranks second to last in the Big Ten.

The Northwestern pass defense is ranked at dead last in the Big Ten, giving up 279 yards per game through the air. Safety Godwin Igwebuike paces the defensive backfield with 65 tackles.

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: WR Tyler Johnson vs. S Godwin Igwebuike

When Northwestern passes the ball:

Northwestern passes the ball much more effectively than running it. The Wildcats caught 26 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over Purdue. The starting quarterback Clayton Thorson throws for 258 yards per game on average. The receiving core is very deep for Northwestern as six players have 200+ receiving yards this season.

The Gophers pass defense ranks third in the Big Ten. Last game, stopping the pass was the weak spot for the Gophers as they gave up 311 passing yards to Nebraska.

Advantage: Northwestern

Matchup to watch: TE Bennett Skowronek vs. DB Jacob Huff

Prediction:

Northwestern 28, Minnesota 24

While both teams are on a hot streak, and both teams’ offenses are getting points on the board, Northwestern defeated four Big Ten opponents that the Gophers lost to this year. Each team has had mostly close games this year, but Northwestern should come out on top.

Daily prediction record: 9-1

Everything else you need to know:

Start time: 11 a.m. CST, Saturday Nov. 18

TV Network: Big Ten Network

Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM

Line: Northwestern by 7