Northwestern Wildcats at Minnesota Golden Gophers, TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
Saturday, October 2, 2010, 12:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
Opening Line: Northwestern -6 1/2
Current Line: Northwestern -5 1/2
Opening Total: 53
Current Total: 55
Money Line: Northwestern -230/ Minnesota +190
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Coach Pat Fitzgerald leads his Northwestern Wildcats to Minnesota to take on Tim Brewster’s Golden Gophers in the Big Ten opener for both teams. The Wildcats are 4-0 but haven’t played anyone yet. The Gophers are 1-3. Both teams played opponents from the MAC at home last week. Northwestern narrowly beat Central Michigan 30-25, and Minnesota lost to Northern Illinois 34-23. Besides the records, two other trends play in Northwestern’s favor. Since 1992, the Wildcats are 28-14 against the spread in road games played on turf, and in the same period are 26-13 ATS in October road games.
Northwestern is 4-0 but has narrow wins over Vanderbilt and Central Michigan along with blowouts over Illinois St and Rice. The Wildcats had the game against Central Michigan in hand as they scored to make it 30-13 at the start of the fourth quarter. The Chippewas scored the last 12 points of the game to make it seem closer than it was. It is hard to know what to make of the Wildcats, as the schedule has been pretty soft thus far. The offense is led by Quarterback Dan Persa, who has thrown for over 1000 yards in 4 games along with 8 touchdowns and only one pick. The running game is averaging 150 yards a game led by Persa who has 50 carries for 172 yards and two touchdowns in four games. It is sort of running back by committee as four other players besides Persa have at least 19 carries. The top running backs are Arby Fields (56 carries, 160 yards, 1 touchdown) and Jacob Schmidt who has only 101 yards but has 2 touchdowns run this season. Persa does spread the ball around but his top target is Jeremy Ebert who has 17 catches, 331 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Tight end Drake Densmore is also dangerous with touchdown catches. On defense the Wildcats have some questions. They are only giving up 15 points a game, but almost 400 yards a game on defense. The Wildcats are especially vulnerable against the pass, as they give up more than 250 yards a game. The Wildcats have forced an impressive 9 sacks and 12 turnovers so far this season. The Wildcats do have issues protecting the quarterback as they have given up 11 sacks. All of those issues might not matter against Minnesota but it could be an issue as they play the better teams in the conference later in the season.
Minnesota has similar numbers to Northwestern. Both give up almost 400 yards a game while gaining just over 400 yards. Both are better at throwing the ball than running, and both struggle when trying to stop the pass They only have two sacks but the Gophers have forced 8 turnovers so far this season. Quarterback Adam Weber has been solid this season but not spectacular, throwing for 1,005 yards, 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions so far. The running game is led by Duane Bennett who has 79 carries for 371 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Fullback Jon Hoese only 38 yards but he does have 3 touchdown runs this season. MarQueis Gray and Da’Jon McKnight are Weber’s top targets at receiver. Both have 3 touchdown catches each, but Gray has 22 catches for 328 yards, while McKnight has 16 catches for 215 yards.
Though Minnesota only has 1 win this season, Northwestern is not taking this team lightly. If the Wildcats want to contend for a conference title in the deep Big Ten, they need to shore up the defense. It might not matter against a rebuilding Minnesota team, but the Wildcats will get destroyed if their defense falters against Ohio St, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn St, or Michigan St.
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