Minnesota at (16) Northwestern
Time: NOON ET, Oct 3 2015
Spread: NW -4
Betting odds c/o Bovada
Northwestern has come out as a surprise threat in the Big Ten this year after starting 4-0 and rocketing up to No. 16 in the polls. This week the Wildcats will host 3-1 Minnesota. Early odds at Bovada showed the Wildcats as 4-point favorites in a game featuring a lower total at 41 points according to college football oddsmakers.
Last week, Northwestern failed to cover the spread when it edged out Ball State 24-19. The Wildcats fell behind in the first half 10-7 but came out strong in the third quarter to erase the three point deficit and turn it into an 8-point lead.
QB Clayton Thorson threw 18 of 31 for 256 yards with three TDs and one pick, while also rushing for 45 yards (including a long of 20). It was RB Justin Jackson that did the most damage, rushing 33 times for 184 yards, including a long-run of 62 yards.
FB/WR Dan Vitale was good for 108 yards on five receptions, as well, while also scoring two of the Wildcats’ TDs. Prior to this season he had just six catches in his entire time at Northwestern, and he had just 66 yards on this season prior to last week. Can Vitale build on that performance or was it a flash in the pan against a mediocre Ball State team?
Jackson’s performance of course was anything but a fluke. He now has 118 carries on the season for 516 yards, though he does have just one TD. Warren Long has received the red zone touches and he has 167 yards on 28 carries with a pair of TDs. Thorson has rushed for two TDs, as well. Vitale’s week made him the top WR in yardage and receptions, while Christian Jones has also been a good source for Thorson’s arm with 11 catches for 119 yards.
But really, Northwestern’s defense is good enough to keep it in games every week. It is mostly up to Jackson and Thorson not to squander that gift by failing to get the team in the end zone. The Wildcats had allowed just 16 points total in Weeks 1 through 3, but gave up 19 last week.
Getting back to that grinding defense is what will allow it to win this week if college football oddsmakers’ spread holds true.
Minnesota lost week one to then-No. 2 TCU but since has won three straight over Colorado State, Kent and Ohio. Last week it took down Ohio by a count of 10-7, scoring its lone TD in the second quarter on a pass to K.J. Maye.
QB Mitch Leidner had a tough outing, throwing 17 of 27 for 184 yards with a TD but two picks, good for a passer rating of just 54.7. Rodney Smith carried 30 times but was mostly ineffective with none resulting in more than eight yards while he ended up with 73 on the game.
The Gophers had 17 receptions spread amongst seven targets, but were failing to produce big plays with regularity and the game was something of a defensive dream and offensive nightmare for both squads.
Leidner is trying to build on a disappointing sophomore campaign last year in which he threw just 51 percent for completion and failed to reach 2,000 yards. Thus far this year he has averaged just 6.36 yards per reception and he’s already been sacked six times. His raw QB rating has fallen from 59.7 last year to just 45 this year, and Minnesota is 3-1.
That mostly speaks volumes about the defense and the point total for this one might be optimistic at 41. Given both school’s defensive strengths and style of play, bettors will find the UNDER very attractive in this Big Ten battle.