Wildcats’ fast offense awaits Minnesota in Evanston

Minnesota plays Northwestern on Saturday in its final road game.

by Samuel Gordon

Just a week after being carved up by WisconsinâÄôs Russell Wilson, the Gophers will travel to Northwestern, where theyâÄôll once again play the role of underdog to one of the conferenceâÄôs top passing teams.

The WildcatsâÄô offensive attack isnâÄôt typical. It includes a unique wrinkle âÄî the no-huddle.

âÄúThey do run a very fast-paced offense. That makes them a little bit different,âÄù Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said.

âÄúWe have to get all the checks, all the things that youâÄôve got to do to get lined up against it, then weâÄôll try to simulate it for our defense as much as we can.âÄù

Kill attributed NorthwesternâÄôs offensive success to senior quarterback Dan Persa, who is second in the conference to Wilson in pass efficiency, a figure that measures a quarterbackâÄôs effectiveness based on nearly every passing statistic.

âÄú[Persa] can beat you with his feet. He throws the short passing game, very precise routes,âÄù Kill said.

âÄúI think itâÄôs a part of what they do and part of their package, but [theyâÄôre] a very disciplined offensive football team.âÄù

PersaâÄôs top receiving option is Jeremy Ebert. The senior wideout is tied for the conference lead in receiving touchdowns with 10, and is third in receptions and receiving yards.

HeâÄôs coming off back-to-back monster performances, too âÄî 147 yards in a win over Nebraska and 208 yards in a win over Rice.

If thatâÄôs not enough firepower, Northwestern also possesses a unique weapon in the form of backup quarterback Kain Colter.

The sophomore has been a jack-of-all-trades for Northwestern. HeâÄôll line up at receiver from time to time, play running back on occasion and quarterback the Wildcat offense.

âÄúHeâÄôs a very, very good athlete. They can play him at quarterback. He can throw it. He does a very good job at receiving,âÄù Kill said.

Colter is one of just two players since 1996 to total at least 500 yards passing, 500 yards rushing and 100 yards in receiving in a single season âÄî a testament to his dynamic ability.

The GophersâÄô pass-rush has gradually improved throughout the season and will be vital in disrupting PersaâÄôs rhythm.

Freshman defensive end Ben Perry said the front seven has developed more cohesiveness throughout the year.

âÄúWeâÄôve grown, and weâÄôve come together. When that happens, thereâÄôs been a natural flow,âÄù he said. âÄúBecause thereâÄôs more comfort in the defense as a whole, weâÄôve been able to get more production.âÄù

With only two games left on its schedule, Minnesota has no shot to reach the six-win plateau that would make it bowl-eligible.

Practices will discontinue at the end of the season, so the last two games serve as the final opportunity to make on-field progress.

Senior defensive back Kyle Henderson said he hopes that younger players like Perry will continue to develop in the seasonâÄôs final two weeks.

âÄúThereâÄôs no substitute for experience. The more playing time these guys can get, itâÄôs definitely going to help them further down the line in their careers,âÄù Henderson said.

âÄúI think itâÄôs great to get as many young guys on the field as we can, as much as we can these last two games to help jumpstart them for the next years to come.âÄù

Despite the teamâÄôs progress being a major goal, Perry said heâÄôll measure success over the final two weeks by the tally in the win column.

âÄúIn my mind I see [success as] wins. I have no plans on losing a game,âÄù he said. âÄúI donâÄôt look at it as whatâÄôs going to happen, I look at it as weâÄôre going to do what it takes to finish the season strong.âÄù