Daily Breakdown: Gophers slight underdogs at home

Northwestern clinched the Big Ten West beating Iowa last week while the Gophers cling to bowl dream

Paul Hodowanic

Now as a ranked team, Northwestern has already clinched its trip to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten championship as the Big Ten West leader.

Minnesota is an underdog but is trending upward with the tough task ahead against the team that shut out the Gophers 39-0 last season.

With new starters at virtually every position on offense, the Gophers hope for a different result this time around. 

When Minnesota runs the ball: 

Minnesota ran the ball effortlessly last week against Purdue, finishing with a team total of 265 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Mohamed Ibrahim continued to lead the efforts with over 155 rushing yards at an average of over eight yards per carry. 

Northwestern has been stingy against the run this year, ranking fourth in the Big Ten against the run. Against Iowa, the Wildcats held the Hawkeyes to 64 yards on the ground, averaging less than three yards per carry. It was the second week in a row holding an offense under three yards per carry. 

Advantage: Northwestern

Matchup to watch: RB Mohamed Ibrahim vs. LB Blake Gallagher

When Northwestern runs the ball: 

Northwestern ranks last in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging more than 100 yards per game. The team unexpectedly moved the ball very well on the ground last week — running back Isaiah Bowser ran for 165 yards and a touchdown in their win versus Iowa. Bowser has been hot lately, rushing for over 100 yards in three of the last four games.

Minnesota ranks 10th in the Big Ten in rush defense, letting up 178 yards per game. However, against Purdue the Gophers allowed just 88 yards on 30 carries.

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: RB Isaiah Bowser vs. LB Blake Cashman

When Minnesota passes the ball:

Last week against Purdue, quarterback Tanner Morgan wasn’t asked to do too much as the Gophers ran down Purdue’s throat.  He threw 18 times for 139 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. The Gophers have a talented tandem of wide receivers with Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman that have put up record numbers this year. Johnson became the first Gopher to have 100 yards receiving in four straight Big Ten games and ranks fourth in school history with 17 receiving touchdowns. 

Last week Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley threw for 269 yards a touchdown against the Wildcats. Northwestern ranks ninth in the Big Ten in passing defense, and has major question marks in their secondary heading into Saturday. Three members of their secondary have already been ruled out because of injury, and they will rely on freshmen Cameron Ruiz and A.J. Hampton to carry the load. 

Advantage: Minnesota 

Matchup to watch: WR Tyler Johnson vs. CB Cameron Ruiz

When Northwestern passes the ball: 

Quarterback Clayton Thorson has been inconsistent throughout the year. He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards, 233.5 per game, but has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns, 12. Against Iowa, Thorson struggled throwing 122 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. 

Minnesota held Purdue’s standout quarterback, David Blough, to 142 yards and a touchdown a week ago. Minnesota’s pass defense is ranked seventh in the Big Ten and has steadily improved over the last five weeks, allowing fewer passing yards in each game than they did the week before. 

Advantage: Minnesota 

Matchup to watch: WR Flynn Nagel vs. DB Terell Smith

Score Prediction:

Minnesota 27, Northwestern 24

Saturday is senior night for the Gophers and a win would make them bowl-eligible. Northwestern has already clinched the Big Ten West title and has major injury problems in the secondary. 

Tanner Morgan and the talented crop of wide receivers should be able to find space and pull off a slight upset at home. 

Everything else you need to know:

Start time: 11 a.m. CT

Network: Big Ten Network

Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM

Line: Northwestern by 2.5