Both Northwestern coach Randy Walker and Minnesota coach Glen Mason said the same thing about each other’s offense this week.
It’s the “no one can stop them, but we hope to stall them” philosophy.
Walker said it about the Gophers’ ground game.
“I think it’s unreasonable to think you can stop them,” he said. “We’re going to try to slow them.”
And Mason said it about the Wildcats’ pass attack.
“They have one of those types of attacks,” he said. “You don’t stop it; you try to contain it.”
At the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, the No. 1 rush offense in the Big Ten will be up against an NU rush defense that is ranked seventh in the conference and is losing members on a weekly basis. Northwestern’s revitalized pass offense, ranked second in the Big Ten, will face a pass defense that is dead last.
Much of No. 19 Minnesota’s success running has come from its top two tailbacks, Marion Barber III and Lawrence Maroney. Barber and Maroney are first and second in the Big Ten and average a combined 269.7 yards per game. Moroney rushed for 132 yards against Colorado State last weekend. Barber rushed for 201.
“They have probably as good a running game as you’ll play,” Walker said. “Great backs have a way of making yards even if there isn’t anything there.”
For NU (1-2) the game will be about avoiding the complete collapse it experienced in last year’s contest. The Cats got off to a quick start, scoring 14 unanswered points in the first quarter. But in the next three quarters, Minnesota broke NU with a 96-yard touchdown pass and another 82-yarder.
Players and coaches didn’t mention those plays specifically, but it’s clear they’ve learned from them.
“Just make sure they don’t string a bunch of them together,” Walker said. “Then all of a sudden you have an avalanche on your hands. If you can stop that first snowball, maybe you can put a stop to the whole thing and have a chance to stay in the game.”
Minnesota’s pass offense deflated a little with the loss of graduated quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq. But his replacement Brian Cupito connects well with receiver Ernie Wheelwright and tight end Matt Spaeth.
“I hope they keep throwing to me and other teams don’t start overplaying me too much,” Spaeth said. “I don’t think they will because they will still have to stop our running game and our big play receivers.”
The Cats have had to drop down to a three- or two-man front after losing a defensive lineman to injury almost every week. But against the Gophers, Walker doesn’t want to take chances. He said he plans to return to a four-man front.
The Cats won’t get lineman David Ngene back, but they might play David Thompson this weekend in the four-man front. But defensive end Barry Cofield said that might not make stopping Minnesota much easier.
“It’ll be tough to play this team even if you have ten All-Americans,” Cofield said. “They’re just good at what they do.”