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Thursday, November 17. 2016

Daily Breakdown: Gophers and Wildcats evenly matched ahead of Saturday’s tilt BY MIKE HENDRICKSON

Minnesota (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) ends its home season against an evenly-matched Northwestern (5-5, 4-3 Big Ten) Saturday. A full breakdown and prediction can be found below.

When Minnesota runs the ball: The Gophers rushed for 100 yards or more every game this season before their matchup against No. 19 Nebraska. The group took a step back Saturday after they were held to 85 yards on 34 attempts. The Huskers were the best rushing defense Minnesota had faced all year, but Northwestern’s is just as good. For the second straight week, running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks will be tested. The Wildcats have allowed 145.2 rushing yards a game this season — sixth in the Big Ten. However, in their past three games, that number has inflated to 176. Smith and Brooks won’t have career days, but they still give Minnesota the slight edge. Matchup to watch: RB Rodney Smith vs. LB Anthony Walker Jr. Advantage: Minnesota

When Northwestern runs the ball: Penn State’s Saquon Barkley was the best running back Minnesota will face in the regular season, but Nor thwestern’s Justin Jackson is a close second. The junior is second in the Big Ten with 103.7 rushing yards a game and has rushed for over 120 yards in a game four times this season. He has struggled against tough rushing defenses, though, putting up only 42 and 76 yards against No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 2 Ohio State, respectively. While the Gophers rushing defense isn’t as good as those two teams, it still is among the best in the conference. They have held opponents to a four th-best 122 yards a

game in the Big Ten and limited Barkley when they played him. Although Jackson has breakout potential, Minnesota’s rushing defense is very strong. Matchup to watch: RB Justin Jackson vs. LB Nick Rallis Advantage: Minnesota

When Minnesota passes the ball: There’s no way around it: Minnesota’s passing offense is almost nonexistent at this point. Quarterback Mitch Leidner has thrown only one touchdown in conference play this season, and has yet to throw a touchdown against an FBS team at home. The Gophers are running the ball a lot, but Leidner still has a 1-6 TD/INT ratio against Big Ten teams. Northwestern’s passing defense is the worst in the Big Ten in yards allowed per game. Still, Northwestern’s pass defense limited Leidner last year. He completed less than half his passes for 72 yards and one interception. The Wildcats still have a positive TD-INT ratio, and are just good enough to prevent Leidner from having a strong day. Matchup to watch: WR Drew Wolitarsky vs. CB Montre Hartage Advantage: Northwestern

When Northwestern passes the ball: Wide receiver Austin Carr has been the best at his position in the Big Ten this season. Quarterback Clayton Thorson has constantly gone to him, as Carr leads the conference in receptions by 18 and has the most yards per game by over 35. Carr has elevated Northwestern’s passing attack to third in the conference. The Wildcats average 257.5 yards a game and Thorson has thrown 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions this season.


Gophers wide receiver Tyler Johnson runs the ball down the field against the Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Nov. 12.



MINNESOTA 7-3, 4-3 Big Ten WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Saturday


Minnesota’s passing defense has similar numbers to Thorson and has allowed 20 touchdowns this season and grabbed just eight interceptions. The group has struggled this year and can’t seem to find any consistency. This could be where the Wildcats win the game. Matchup to watch: WR Austin Carr vs. S Damarius Travis Advantage: Northwestern

Prediction: Northwestern 17, Minnesota 13. This game could go either way, but injuries on Minnesota’s offensive line and the Wildcats’ strong passing attack gives them the very slight edge. Prediction record: 8-2

Gameday Preview: Minnesota vs. Northwestern  
Gameday Preview: Minnesota vs. Northwestern