Northwestern defeated Minnesota 21-13 Saturday in Minneapolis, bringing the Wildcats to 6-1 on the season and bowl-eligible for the sixth consecutive year.
The Cats’ sixth victory was not the dominating performance that many NU fans had hoped for, but rather a four-quarter grudge match between two teams seemingly out of rhythm.
On offense, the running game was a bright spot early in the game, led by Venric Mark’s 182 yards. However, Minnesota was able to adjust in second half to the draw and trap schemes that Northwestern was running and effectively ended this rushing surge.
The short-passing game allowed many drives to start on schedule, as Kain Colter went 10-for-10 through the air for 63 yards, but the lack of a down-field threat never let the passing game get established.
Additionally, an uncharacteristic 11 penalties for 93 yards further contributed to Northwestern’s struggles to put a drive together. The good news for NU is Pat Fitzgerald will not tolerate “dumb” penalties. So the illegal substitutions, false starts, and delay of game penalties that plagued the Cats Saturday should be cleaned up by next week’s game.
On defense, with the exception of few assignment breakdowns against Minnesota’s zone-read option play with MarQueis Gray, the Wildcat’s kept the Gopher’s offense in check. NU will face a similar rushing threat this week from Nebraska’s quarterback, Taylor Martinez, and stopping their option will be key.
Quentin Williams' second-quarter pass deflection, which led to a David Nwabuisi interception, and Tyler Scott’s forced fumble to finish off Minnesota’s final drive all helped NU to keep Minnesota for the most part out of the score column, despite out gaining the Wildcats, 327- 275 in total yards.
For NU to have success this week against Nebraska, the Wildcat defense will need to continue this bend-but-not-break mentality and force multiple turnovers as they did against Minnesota.
The Wildcats' offensive staff is looking for answers for how to get more consistent offensive production. Look for Mick McCall to challenge Nebraska secondary with vertical passing plays as he did last year in Lincoln with Persa and Colter connecting with Jeremy Ebert.
Jack DiNardo was a standout defensive tackle with Northwestern's winningest-ever senior class. He graduated with a degree in political science and is now pursuing a master's degree in liberal arts. Each Sunday following a Northwestern game, DiNardo will offer a column sharing his perspective.