The Daily Northwestern

Statistical Preview: Minnesota vs. Northwestern

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

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Northwestern desperately needs a win after its crushing loss at Wisconsin. Here’s a preview of the Wildcats’ Saturday opponent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers:

The red zone will be absolutely critical for the Cats on Saturday. In its past two losses, NU has only scored 3 touchdowns on seven trips beyond the opposing 20 yard-line. The Cats cannot afford to settle for field goals constantly. They need to find ways to punch the ball into the end zone so they can try and put the Golden Gophers away quickly, which won’t be an easy task. Minnesota is ranked 21st in the nation in red zone defense.

With quarterback Mitch Leidner most likely taking the majority of the snaps Saturday, the Cats’ defenders will have their hands full with Leidner’s mobility. He tends to scramble more on earlier downs. Of his 317 rushing yards this season, 249 have come on first and second down.

Expect both teams to come out trying to establish their respective running attacks. NU’s offensive line talked all week about being balanced on offense after last week’s lopsided totals. But it’s now been two consecutive weeks since the Cats have topped 100 yards rushing. That hasn’t happened since the end of the 2009 season against Wisconsin and Auburn.

Many reports out of Minneapolis have the Gophers trying to get their ground game going early at Ryan Field. Running back David Cobb has struggled to get going early in games, averaging 2.8 yards per carry in the first quarter. But he finds a way to get going later in the game, averaging 6.17 yards per carry after the first 15 minutes of the game.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald mentioned during the week that some of the sacks the Cats gave up could have been avoided if his quarterbacks just got rid of the ball. It’ll be important for junior quarterback Trevor Siemian to do that, especially on second down, where he’s been sacked six times.

Sacks on second down tend to lead to third and longs, which are difficult to convert for any offense. In fact, the last two weeks have seen the Cats go 7 for 31 on third down, which is horrendous for a team that is supposed to put up big offensive numbers on a consistent basis.

Quick hits:

  • Senior quarterback Kain Colter can eclipse the 2,000-yard career mark in both passing and rushing with 21 yards through the air and 46 on the ground.
  •  NU and Minnesota are the only two schools to have their head coach and nine full-time assistants stay on staff for three consecutive years.
  • The magic number for the Gophers’ offense is nine. On 13 of its 26 scoring drives this year, Minnesota has gone nine plays or more to points on the board.
  • Minnesota is 4-0 this year when leading after the third quarter. The team is also undefeated when its offense has more than 300 yards total.
  • Senior kicker Jeff Budzien is two extra points away from setting a Big 10 record for most consecutive converted extra points.

Twitter: @John_Paschall


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