2011 Prediction & Game Story
Week 12, Minnesota at Northwestern
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Nov. 19 at Northwestern 28 … Minnesota 13
CFN Analysis: With its fourth straight win, Northwestern is bowl eligible. However, it’s going to take a win over Michigan State to assure a post-season spot with so many Big Ten teams likely eligible. Fortunatlely, the Spartans have already clinched the Legends and might be looking ahead to the Big Ten championship. … The NU offense got up early and Minnesota didn’t have the offense to make any sort of a comeback. Dan Persa spread the ball around well and finished with 216 yards and two scores. … The special teams came up with a big day. Brandon Williams averaged 58.3 yards per punt, while Venric Mark came up with two huge kickoff returns. … The run defense was way too soft. It did a lot of bending, but didn’t do much breaking. Brian Peters and Bryce McNaul combined for 22 tackles, but that’s not a plus. The line didn’t do enough to stop the Gopher runners before they could get room to roam.
MarQueis Gray ran for 147 yards and a score, and Duane Bennett added 127 yards, but he offense couldn’t convert the yards into points. After getting down big early, it was a scramble to try to come back, the Gophers aren’t equipped to bomb away. … It might have been a double digit loss, but there were signs of improvement. The offensive line had one of its best games of the year. … Kim Royston deserves All-Big Ten recognition. He was all over the field making 17 stops with a pick. … For a team that needs great field position, the problems punting the ball continue to be glaring. The Gophers lost the special teams battle. … Can they close out with a win over a floundering Illinois? Going into the offseason, a home victory would be something to rally around.
(AP) EVANSTON, Ill. -- Dan Persa threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns, and Northwestern won its fourth straight, beating Minnesota 28-13 on Saturday.
Venric Mark came through with two big kickoff returns as the Wildcats (6-5, 3-4 Big Ten) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to build a 21-7 lead. That set the tone as Northwestern became eligible for its fourth straight bowl appearance.
If it seems like a modest accomplishment, consider where this team was when this streak began.
The Wildcats lost five in a row after winning their first two and appeared to be going nowhere, but they turned it around in a big way with lopsided wins over Indiana and Rice sandwiched around a tight stunner at Nebraska.
Minnesota (2-9, 1-6) had two deep drives stall, settling for a field goal after getting to the Wildcats' 10 in the second quarter and coming away with nothing late in the third when it was threatening to make it a four-point game.
Instead, Ibraheim Campbell tipped a 9-yard pass intended for Brandon Green in the end zone and Brian Peters made the interception. That led to an 80-yard Northwestern drive, with Jacob Schmidt running it in from the 1 on a pitch to make it 28-10 early in the fourth and seal the victory.
The Wildcats will try to strengthen their standing against Michigan State next week, but they can breathe a little easier knowing they have enough wins to make a bowl.
Coming off a career performance against Rice, Persa was sharp again after throwing for a personal-best 372 yards and matching a high with four TD passes. He was 22 of 31 with an interception.
Jeremy Ebert had a relatively quiet day with 62 yards receiving after setting career highs the previous two weeks with 147 yards against Nebraska and 208 against Rice.
Mark's 44-yard return on the opening kickoff and 42-yarder on Northwestern's next possession both led to touchdowns, giving the Wildcats an early lead that ultimately stood.
The Golden Gophers, meanwhile, got solid performances from Marqueis Gray and Duane Bennett but simply couldn't pull this one out.
Gray ran for 147 yards and a touchdown and threw for 124, but completed just 9 of 21 passes and got picked off once. Bennett finished with a season-high 127 yards rushing, 78 in the first half.
Minnesota (2-8) at Northwestern (5-5) Nov. 19, 12:00, BTN
Here’s The Deal … It’s a big weekend for the Legends division with four teams still in the race for at least a piece of the title. Minnesota and Northwestern aren’t among them.
The two teams are playing better, improving as the season has gone on, even though Minnesota was blown away by Wisconsin last weekend and has lost six of its last seven games. The Gophers are starting to find more of an offense, they’re talking better, and they’re playing stronger on both lines. However, they’re just not that talented and it’s going to take a few recruiting cycles to be able to beat the better Big Ten teams. A stunning win over Iowa and a good performance against Michigan State was a good start, but closing out with a win over either Northwestern or Illinois would be a nice boost going into the offseason. At this point, the goal is to find as many playmakers as possible to build around.
Northwestern has turned its season around with a strong three-game winning streak to come within a game of going back to a bowl game. Blowing away Indiana isn’t anything to get excited about, and rolling against Rice was nice, but shocking Nebraska in Lincoln was of the biggest game-changers of the conference season. After all the good things over the last few weeks, the Cats can’t blow this home game with Michigan State coming into town to close out the regular season. 6-6 still isn’t a lock for a bowl game, and losing to Minnesota might end up ruining all the positives from the current streak.
Minnesota owned the series for a while, but Northwestern has won three of the last four games, with a few coming in dramatic fashion. This year’s matchup should have some interesting moments if the Gophers can play like they did against Michigan State and if NU can keep up the pace set against Rice.
Why Minnesota Might Win: The Wildcats aren’t getting into the backfield. It didn’t seem to matter much over the last few weeks several games against anemic passing games, and Minnesota isn’t going to start bombing away, but things started to click a little bit before the Wisconsin loss with WR Da’Jon McKnight starting to step up his play and with more of a vertical game to make defenses worry. The opportunities will be there, and Minnesota has to take them against the shaky secondary.
Minnesota isn’t killing itself with a slew of turnovers. It’s hardly been stingy, giving away five in the last four games, but it’s not likely to lose by giving the ball away. Northwestern has turned it over six times in the last two games, and if the Gophers can capitalize on any Wildcat mistakes, they should be able to keep this close.
Why Northwestern Might Win: Bombs away. Northwestern’s passing game has picked up the pace with Dan Persa finding his old groove and receiver Jeremy Ebert making big play after big play. The Wildcats took control against Nebraska with 261 yards and a long touchdown pass to Ebert, while the five touchdown passes against Indiana turned the game into an ugly blowout. And then came last week with Persa setting a career-high with 372 yards and four scores, and Ebert catching seven passes for 208 yards and a two scores, taking the NU passing game to another level. Minnesota has some talented veterans in the secondary, but it hasn’t mattered much against anyone trying to throw deep. Teams haven’t rolled up huge passing yards, on Minnesota, but they’ve come up with effective ones.
Northwestern doesn’t generate much in the way of defensive pressure, but Minnesota really struggles to get into the backfield. It was shockingly able to sack Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson twice early on last week, and that was it. Wilson got time, and then went on a tear making every throw and every play. If Persa gets time, and he will, he should come up with a repeat of Wilson’s 16-of-17 day.
What To Watch Out For: MarQueis Gray has to be awesome. He was terrific against Michigan State, throwing for 295 yards and three scores and running for 171 yards, and he made play after play to help the Gophers get by Iowa. Against the Badgers, he never found the open target, wasn’t effective enough scrambling, and ended up throwing for just 51 yards and running for 68. Along with McKnight, Gray is one of the team’s few weapons, and he needs to match Persa yard-for-yard while also coming up with a few back-breaking dynamic plays against a defense that held Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez in relative check.
Gray went from being a quarterback to a wide receiver to a quarterback, and Northwestern’s Kain Colter is also trying to fill a variety of roles. He stepped in for an injured Persa over the first part of the season and is still the team’s leading rusher, highlighted by a 109-yard, three-score day against Eastern Illinois. With Persa back, Colter has turned into a key receiver catching 29 passes while also being used as a runner out of the backfield. The coaching staff is inventing ways to get the ball in his hands, and he’s still getting a few throws here and there, too.
What Will Happen: Gray will have a huge game. He’ll run for 100 yards and should throw for over 200 yards if he gets a little bit of time. What he won’t be able to do is get any pressure on Persa, who’ll pick apart the Gopher secondary for 300 yards to answer every good Minnesota drive with a big scoring play. It won’t be a blowout, but Northwestern will win decisively.
CFN Prediction: Northwestern 31 … Minnesota 20
Click For Latest Line From ATS: Northwestern -15.5 O/U: 57
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