Gophers-Wildcats: Scouting the Matchups

The Northwestern Wildcats are riding high after a win at Michigan State while the Gophers were down after their loss to Indiana. It creates a contrast in morale for Saturday's game. Get the scouting reports on offense and defense for both teams, along with the players to watch and more.

Minnesota at Northwestern, Oct. 13 — The Gophers thought they could win at Indiana and got drilled. Their morale was dismal after the game and could become worse if they lose at Northwestern. The Wildcats gained some confidence by winning at Michigan State. Their offense is capable of having a huge day against the Gophers maligned defense.

The Wildcats celebrate homecoming with a chance to take their record back over .500 and renew their pursuit of a bowl berth. NU grads won't be the only ones feeling the homecoming vibe. Minnesota offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar ran the show under the late Randy Walker through the 2005 season, so he worked with many of NU's offensive players. They probably want to show their former coach that they've grown up since he left.


SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Gophers were disappointed with their inability to run the ball against Indiana. The Gophers finished with 112 rushing yards, but they had only 40 yards on 20 carries entering the fourth quarter. "We had a couple of runs that kind of skewed the reality of the performance," coach Tim Brewster said. "We had a couple of long runs that made it look like maybe we had some yards."

Freshman starter Duane Bennett sprained his right ankle on a one-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter and did not play in the second half. Senior Amir Pinnix is still not 100 percent because of a turf-toe injury and is noticeably limited. He rushed for only 26 yards on six carries. Sophomore Jay Thomas stepped in and rushed for 58 yards on eight carries and might see his workload increase this week.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: It's a broken record, but the Gophers can't stop anyone, and they are really bad against spread offenses. Indiana scored points on its first seven possessions and rolled up 199 of its 463 total yards in the first quarter. It could get worse this week. Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher passed for a school-record 520 yards and five touchdowns in a victory at Michigan State. Imagine what he might do against the Gophers secondary.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Jay Thomas — Speedy sophomore began the season as the third tailback but he might get the most carries because of injuries to Duane Bennett and Amir Pinnix. Thomas had 58 rushing yards on eight carries against Indiana.

DE Willie VanDeSteeg — The junior finally recorded his first sack against the Hoosiers. He's basically playing with one arm because of a broken right wrist, but he showed a spark against the Hoosiers after being challenged by the coaches.

SS Dominique Barber — He leads the team in tackles (51) and is one of the few playmakers on the defense. The Gophers will need another big game from him against Northwestern's spread attack.

ROSTER REPORT: Freshman TB Duane Bennett has a right ankle sprain and sat out the second half of the Indiana game with a protective boot on his leg. It is not a high ankle sprain, and he should be available Oct. 13.

Senior TB Amir Pinnix is still battling a turf-toe injury and is not nearly 100 percent. But he's also available.

Senior MLB Mike Sherels has a hamstring injury and is noticeably limited in what he can do.

Senior Neel Allen has replaced Eric Small as the starter at defensive tackle. Junior Steve Davis (foot injury) has regained his starting job at strong-side linebacker.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It stung me more. If it doesn't really burn you or pain you, then your emotional investment isn't what it needs to be. For us to get to where we want to go, we've got to feel the pain of these losses." — Minnesota coach Tim Brewster on his players showing more outward disappointment and frustration Oct. 6 than they did after previous losses.


SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: In last week's 48-41 overtime win at Michigan State, for the first time all season, Northwestern's spread offense generated the points (48) one would expect from its total yardage (611). That's a roundabout way of saying the Wildcats know how to move the ball, but they don't always know how to make it translate into points. Junior QB C.J. Bacher threw for a career-high 520 yards and five scores against MSU, but the coaching staff noted the true heroes when they recognized the offensive line — Dylan Thiry, Adam Crum, Trevor Rees, Joel Belding and Kurt Mattes — as the players of the week.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: If you look at virtually every defensive category, Northwestern ranks either 10th or 11th in the Big Ten. The Wildcats have been maligned for their terrible pass defense, but their pass-efficiency defense actually improved against Michigan State. There's just one catch with that: The Spartans didn't need to pass, because they averaged nine yards per carry and scored all five of their touchdowns on the ground. Minnesota features a balanced offense, so it'll be interesting to see which element the Wildcats try to take away.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB C.J. Bacher — This junior had a turnaround for the ages last week when he threw for 520 yards, five touchdowns and committed no turnovers at Michigan State. In the three weeks prior to the win over the Spartans, Bacher coughed up seven turnovers and didn't throw for any touchdowns. He's remarkably accurate when he has time to throw, so the Gophers might want to bring the blitz early and often.

WR Eric Peterman — One of three NU receivers averaging at least four catches per game, the junior enjoyed a career day at Michigan State, catching nine passes for 141 yards (his first 100-yard day) and his first score of the season.

RB Omar Conteh — With Tyrell Sutton sidelined, this junior has started the last three games and performed admirably. Conteh produced 149 total yards and three scores against Michigan State, giving him 213 rushing yards, 107 passing yards and four scores since he became the starter.

ROSTER REPORT: RB Tyrell Sutton seems to be on the way to missing his fifth-consecutive game due to a high ankle sprain. He hasn't been able to practice, which in Northwestern's system usually means you're not able to play. Junior Omar Conteh has done a solid job in Sutton's place.

Redshirt freshman Quentin Davie, who took the strong-side linebacker job when starter Prince Kwateng hurt his shoulder and missed the Michigan game, remains listed as the starter.

Junior Mike Dinard remains the starter at weak-side linebacker, though Malcolm Arrington has become a bigger factor in recent weeks.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have a lot of trust in my receivers. Ross [Lane] had a couple of pass breakups." — Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher joking about his incredible stat line (38-of-48, 520 yards, no interceptions and five touchdowns) last week against Michigan State.

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