Gophers v. Northwestern: Week 11 Preview

Nov. 8, 2022The Gophers will look to continue to keep the ball rolling Saturday when they take on Northwestern at 2:30 p.m. at Huntington Bank Stadium.

–> Follow @Tony Liebert on Twitter

Broadcast Info:

  • Date: Sat., Nov. 12
  • TV channel: BTN
  • Time of kickoff: 2:30 p.m. (CST)
  • Broadcast team: n/a (play-by-play) & n/a (color)
  • Betting line: Minnesota (-17.5) v. Northwestern, o/u: (41 points)

Opponent Information (Northwestern):

  • 2021 record: 3-9
  • 2022 record: 1-8
    • V. Nebraska (in Dublin) 31-21 W
    • V. Duke 23-31 L
    • V. Southern Illinois (FCS) 24-31 L
    • V. Miami (OH) 14-17 L
    • @ Penn State 7-17 L
    • V. Wisconsin 42-7 L
    • @ Maryland 24-31 L
    • @ Iowa 33-13 L
    • V. Ohio State 7-21 L
  • Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (17th year)
  • Players to watch: Evan Hull (RB), Peter Skoronski (OT), Adetomiwa Adebawore (DE), Bryce Gallagher (LB), Brendan Sullivan/Ryan Hilinski (QBs)

While some Gophers fans seemed to give up on the 2022 season after losing to Penn State, the third straight L on the season. Fast-forward, the Maroon & Gold are bowl eligible, 6-3 and have plenty left to play for this season. Northwestern is fresh off a close 7-21 loss to Ohio State, most of which can be thanked to an absolute tropical rainstorm in Evanston, Illinois. With that being said the Wildcats will always be one of the peskiest teams in the conference for as long as Pat Fitzgerald is the head coach. Nevertheless, Saturday will provide the Gophers will a nice “tune-up” game before two pivotal games against Iowa as Wisconsin to close out the regular season.

Nebraska Season Storylines:

  • Is Pat Fitzgerald on the hot seat?:

If you proposed this question in 2020 after Northwestern finished 7-2, pushed Ohio State to the brink in the Big Ten Championship game and beat Auburn in the Citrus Bowl, they would’ve called you crazy. But looking at the bigger picture, Northwestern’s “golden boy” Pat Fitzgerald has won more than 3 games once since 2019. In 2022 the Wildcats won only one game against Nebraska in Dublin, Ireland, and suffered shocking home losses to Southern Illinois (FCS) and Miami (OH).

When people always ask this question, I respond with them, who would they [Northwestern] get? Pat Fitzgerald is Northwestern football and there is likely no better option for the program to look for as a head coach. I believe that things would have to get really really bad for Northwestern to move on from Fitzgerald. He has proven that he can win in this conference and there is no reason why he cannot turn it around.
  • RB Evan Hull among Big Ten’s best + Struggling to find consistent QB play:

One of the lone bright spots for Northwestern this season has been star back Evan Hull. The Maple Grove, Minnesota native has been the Wildcats’ whole offense this season accumulating for ~36.5% of their total offense. With a crazy 14-catch, 213-yard performance in week two against Duke, he has proven to be one of the best playmakers in the conference. Every game that Hull has reached 100+ scrimmage yards Northwestern has been within one score of its opponent (excluding last week against OSU), so it’s fair this team goes through Hull.

A major reason for the Wildcats’ struggles this season starts at the QB position. Former 4-star prospect and South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, but he’s failed to show consistent play. Hilinski was benched following a 42-7 loss to Wisconsin. Sophomore Brendan Sullivan has replaced him behind center and it hasn’t been a much different story. With a 61.1% combined completion percentage and a combined 10 to 9 TD to INT ratio, nobody has been able to find success at QB this season.
  • What is wrong with Northwestern?:

I personally believe Northwestern’s struggles start with its defense and quarterback play. Led by potential top-10 pick Peter Skoronski at offensive tackle, and Evan Hull at runningback, there is plenty of talent on that side of the football. That will only go so far if you have someone struggling to make decisions at quarterback. Recently good Northwestern teams have had solid QB play (Clayton Thorson, Peyton Ramsey, and Trevor Simien) and an elite defense. Right now they have neither.

After losing Greg Newsome II, Rashawn Slater, Brandon Joseph, and Paddy Fisher to a combination of the NFL and transfer portal, Northwestern simply hasn’t been able to get back to its level of football. Imagine the Gophers with worse QB play and an even worse defense and that is the state of Northwestern football right now.

Gophers’ path to victory:

Northwestern’s close loss to Ohio State last week shocked most, but if you go deeper than just the box score, a major reason for that result was the gale-force winds and downpour rain. Excluding that game, the Wildcats have had only one Big Ten game decided by at least one score and losses to a MAC team, and an FCS team at home. They are not a very good football team.

Ranking 5th to last in point-per-game, I simply don’t think Northwestern has the firepower to score against the Gophers. Ranking, 82nd (out of 131) in points allowed per game, they also have one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten. Across the field, I don’t believe Northwestern has the advantage over the Gophers in any aspect of the game.

Overall, I think it’s huge that Minnesota has this game at home. With Iowa and Wisconsin this would typically be a prime lookahead spot, but having the game in Dinkytown is a huge advantage. I think the Gophers played far from their best games against Rutgers and Nebraska and they were still able to come away with victories. If they play at least at the level of the previous two weeks, I think there is an incredibly small chance we see Northwestern keep this game competitive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *