Gophers football vs. Northwestern: Keys to game, how to watch and who has the edge

Minnesota looking for its third-straight victory over the Wildcats

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan puts the ball in the air against Northwestern on Nov. 23, 2019, at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.
Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan puts the ball in the air against Northwestern on Nov. 23, 2019, at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.
Aaron Lavinsky / Minneapolis Star Tribune / TNS
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Northwestern at Minnesota

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Huntington Bank Stadium
Weather: 29 degrees, partly cloudy, 10 mph wind from south
Betting favorite: Minnesota, minus-17.5

Records: The Gophers (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) came back from 10 points down to win their second straight game, 20-13, over Nebraska last weekend. Northwestern (1-8, 1-5) has lost eight straight games, its worst losing streak since 1998, but the Wildcats did take a 7-0 lead on No. 2 Ohio State in a bad-weather game last Saturday.

History: Minnesota has won two straight against Northwestern, including a 41-14 win in Evanston, Illinois, last November. Minnesota is 55-36-5 against the Wildcats all time.

Key matchup: Gophers vs. themselves. Minnesota is a big favorite against struggling Northwestern but can’t play down to the competition, something they have done the past couple of seasons. (See: Purdue, 2022; Bowling Green and Illinois, 2021.)

Who has the edge?

Gophers offense vs. Northwestern defense: For the second time in a month, QB Tanner Morgan’s health is unknown leading up to kickoff. The sixth-year senior suffered a concussion and missed the Penn State loss, but returned for the Rutgers win. He was knocked out again at Nebraska. Athan Kaliakmanis took over in the second half and led Minnesota to 20 unanswered points. He created with his big right arm (long completions of 45 and 38 yards) and his legs (3 rushes for 27 yards). … Northwestern’s pass defense is much better (35th in nation) than its rush defense (112th in country), meaning RB Mo Ibrahim could have another big day on the ground. Ibrahim has nearly identical numbers (rushes, yards and touchdowns) this year compared to 2020, when he won Big Ten running back of the year. … Minnesota’s offensive line must account for edge rusher Adetomiwa Adebawore, who leads the Wildcats with 27 pressures and four sacks. Morgan was sacked four times in the first half last week; Kaliakmanis wasn’t sacked in the second half. OC Kirk Ciarrocca helped his redshirt freshman QB out by moving the pocket. … WR Dylan Wright had two receptions for 54 yards against the Cornhuskers, his first grabs since September, and will need to prove he can be consistent. WR Mike Brown-Stephens and TE Brevyn Spann-Ford have had multiple drops in the last few weeks. EDGE: Gophers


Gophers defense vs. Northwestern offense: The Wildcats also have issues with the health of their starting QB. Brendan Sullivan was knocked out of the Ohio State loss, with previously benched Ryan Hilinski stepping in. Despite the uncertainty at QB, Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi pointed to Northwestern’s close losses to Ohio State and No. 14 Penn State. “This is a good team that is much better than their record indicates.” … RB Evan Hull can makes the offense churn. The Maple Grove native is 12th in the nation in yards from scrimmage (701 rushing, 465 receiving) and has six total touchdowns. … The Gophers defense has started slow in previous weeks, so not getting schemed and allowing explosive plays and an early deficit will be key to a third straight win. … WR Malik Washington is the go-to target with 49 receptions for 519 yards and one TD. “(Number) six catches everything, and he does a phenomenal job,” Rossi said. Washington is a slot receiver, and Minnesota contained Nebraska slot receiver Trey Palmer with a by-committee approach last week. … The Gophers generated a season-high four sacks against Nebraska, but Northwestern has given up 11 sacks fewer than Nebraska this season. DE Danny Striggow, who has a team-high 3 1/2 sacks, suffered an arm injury in Lincoln, but images of it came back “good,” Fleck said. EDGE: Gophers

Special teams: K Matthew Trickett made 47- and 49-yard field goals to put Minnesota on scoreboard and later gave them the lead at Nebraska last week. He won Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week. Trickett is 10 of 11 on the season. … K Adam Stage has made only 4 of 6. Hull is also Northwestern’s main kick returner. EDGE: Gophers

Prediction: The Gophers’ backup quarterback is better than Northwestern’s, and the defense more well-rounded than the Wildcats’, and Minnesota’s program has found more ways to win this year. Gophers, 27-13


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