Minnesota seeks redemption in Evanston

The Gophers have lost two straight heartbreakers to Northwestern

Austin Cumblad

To paraphrase Mark Twain: if recent football history between Minnesota and Northwestern hasnâÄôt repeated itself, it has certainly rhymed. Searching for a heart-wrenching Gophers loss? Take your pick. Ryan Field in 2007 or the Metrodome in 2008; failed 2-point conversion in double overtime or 48-yard interception returned for a touchdown with 11 seconds remaining in the game . But this is 2009, and, due respect to Mr. Twain, Minnesota (2-1 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) would rather start a new verse Saturday at 11 a.m. when the Gophers visit the Wildcats (2-1, 0-0) in Evanston, Ill. âÄúObviously we study history and we study the past,âÄù head coach Tim Brewster said. âÄúBut we spend a whole lot more time studying the future and the things we need to do this year to win the football game.âÄù First on that list: stop Mike Kafka. In relief of C.J. Bacher, who was sidelined for two games with a hamstring injury, the quarterback literally ran all over MinnesotaâÄôs defense a year ago, gaining 217 yards on the ground. And aside from two interceptions, Kafka was quite efficient with his arm as well âÄî 12-for-16 for 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Think the defense remembers? âÄúThatâÄôs something you donâÄôt want to see all spring, all summer long âÄî a quarterback getting that kind of [rushing] yardage,âÄù senior linebacker Simoni Lawrence said. âÄúAs a defense we took that real personally; it wonâÄôt happen again.âÄù The defense has reason to be confident, despite what some numbers might say. Yes, the Gophers allowed 415 yards last week against then-No. 8 California, but in the second half, they held Jahvid Best, perhaps the nationâÄôs best running back, to just 17 yards. And sure, Air Force rushed for 261 yards in week two, but that number is at least somewhat skewed because its triple-option offense runs the ball nearly every play; Minnesota only allowed one touchdown against the Falcons. Plus, thereâÄôs a good chance the GophersâÄô ability to stop the run will be a moot point. A week ago against Syracuse, Kafka passed for 390 yards and three touchdowns; he completed his first 16 passes of the game. âÄúHe knows where to go with the ball,âÄù Brewster said of Kafka. âÄúIf you pressure him, he gets the ball out of his hand pretty quickly. âÄúHe’s gotten better to the point where he’s throwing the ball extremely well. And then you’ve got to constantly be concerned about what he can do with his feet.âÄù Kafka has spread the ball well all season, and Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber may be well served to start following that lead. WeberâÄôs favorite target is no secret. Senior wide receiver Eric Decker has nearly a third of the GophersâÄô total receptions and 415 of 700 total receiving yards . To sustain success in the Big Ten, Weber will have to find other receivers like sophomore Brandon Green, a Chicago native who has been sure-handed in important situations. But for this week, WeberâÄôs favoritism for Decker may serve the duo well. A year ago, Decker deflected the pass that Northwestern safety Brendan Smith intercepted and returned for the game-winning score. An uncharacteristic play to say the least, and one he hasnâÄôt forgotten. âÄúI feel like I [owe my team] a lot for this game,âÄù Decker said.