Last year, NU's first loss of the season a stunner at Army began a five-game skid. Senior Brian Arnfelt, part of a defensive front that struggled last week, thinks this team can avoid falling into an extended slump.
"I don't think we necessarily took the right attitude last year," Arnfelt said. "But I don't think with this year's group that's going to be an issue at all."
After taking much of the blame following the Penn State loss, coach Pat Fitzgerald maintained a tone of cautious optimism. Fitzgerald said he would have made several different decisions in the Penn State game. He pointed to NU's overall struggles on offense as a fault of the coaching staff.
To this team, preparation is crucial. Leading up to the Minnesota contest, the Cats know they need to look forward.
"You can't let a team beat you twice," Fitzgerald said. "You've just got to get back to work."
Running back Venric Mark missed time in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game with Penn State, and was declared "dinged up" by his head coach on Monday. However, Mark fully participated in practice and looked to be his usual, agile self.
Receiver Tony Jones hauled in his second career touchdown against Penn State. His first came as a freshman in 2010 against Minnesota. He will return to the site of that score on Saturday.
Northwestern is preparing for Minnesota's two quarterbacks, MarQueis Gray and Max Shortel, even though Gray is unlikely to play. "We'll expect (Gray) is going to play and adjust accordingly," said Fitzgerald.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Northwestern's offense appeared unstoppable after posting a school-record 704 yards of offense against Indiana. That appearance proved false against a stout Penn State defense. The Wildcats were held in check, posting just 247 yards. The biggest questions are at quarterback, where starter Kain Colter has attempted just two passes in his past two games none against the Nittany Lions. NU will look to get back in a groove against the Gophers.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The run defense that Northwestern has displayed to this point is one of the team's most pleasant surprises. Against the Nittany Lions, though, the Wildcats struggled to get off the field, allowing long Penn State drives to continue, often leading to touchdowns. NU will look to rebound against Minnesota and its offense which has several issues.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It happened so fast, I didn't get to process it immediately. Once I got to the sidelines, I took a moment to enjoy it." Wide receiver Tony Jones, on his first touchdown reception in more than two years.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Northwestern at Minnesota, Oct. 13 The Wildcats continue their two-game road swing with a trip to the Twin Cities for a contest with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. It will be NU's second appearance in TCF Bank Field on Minnesota's campus.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Northwestern must settle in on defense, keeping Max Shortell from getting into rhythm. The Wildcat defense must stay off the field, allowing their offense to get to work. If Minnesota can dictate the tempo of the game as Penn State managed to do, it will be another difficult task ahead.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
S Ibraheim Campbell Campbell tallied a career-high 14 tackles for Northwestern against Penn State. The sophomore has continued to improve as the season progresses, just as he did in 2011. Campbell will need to be a key player in containing both the run and pass of Minnesota.
QB Kain Colter Northwestern's do-it-all weapon on offense was seemingly limited by the team's own game plan against Penn State. Colter did not attempt a pass and spent the majority of the game on the sidelines. NU will struggle on offense without Colter playing a key role.
QB Trevor Siemian The sophomore quarterback struggled against Penn State, dealing with accuracy issues that raised some concern. Siemian will need to rebound against the Golden Gophers, or else he risks losing out on snaps at quarterback.
DE Tyler Scott Northwestern's defensive line has not provided a steady pass rush during the first two Big Ten contests; a vast difference from the nonconference games. Scott, Northwestern's standout defensive end, must lead the way for the front four.
RB Venric Mark returned to practice on Tuesday and is listed as the starting running back for Saturday's game.
OG Neal Deiters remains Northwestern's starter at right guard, though continues to rotate at the position with redshirt freshman Matt Frazier.
DE Ifeadi Odenigbo was declared out for the season by Northwestern one week ago. Odenigbo had surgery on his left shoulder to repair damage.