NU vs. South Dakota: Who has the edge?

With its record at 3-0 on the campaign, Northwestern looks for another victory when it hosts South Dakota at Ryan Field on Saturday. Which team has the edge in the matchup? PurpleWildcats.com offers an in-depth breakdown of the game.

After a tough first three games, the Wildcats came out with a 3-0 record and tons of momentum. Pat Fitzgerald may be talking about how tough an opponent South Dakota will be, and that the team isn't going to look past them, but they are the least accomplished opponent on Northwestern's schedule. So who will have the edge?

When NU has the ball…

The Northwestern offense has been clicking, minus some issues in the red zone. Colter and Siemian are putting to rest the theory that dual-quarterback systems don't work – both are playing well, minus a few missed throws. The run game has a new energy with Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy each posting a 100-yard game in back-to-back weeks. If NU can put the ball in the end zone instead of kicking field goals, this offense will be difficult to stop.

South Dakota, meanwhile, is not a highly prized defense. They gave up 35 points to Montana and 21 points to Colgate, neither of which provides as much spark offensively as NU. Colgate, in fact, had two 100-yard rushers in the game. So expect NU to dominate on the ground early and often, imposing their will against a much less physical team.

Advantage: Northwestern.

When South Dakota has the ball…

South Dakota has a capable but unimpressive offense. The team posted 340 yards against Colgate and just 233 against Montana. Quarterback Josh Vander Maten did throw for 172 yards and two touchdowns against Montana, but the NU secondary will provide a much bigger challenge. On the flip side, the NU defense has thoroughly impressed in the last two games, holding Vanderbilt and Boston College to 13 points each. The secondary has improved from last year, the pass rush is significantly better and the run defense is solid, allowing just 25 yards to BC.

Advantage: Northwestern

Special Teams…

South Dakota has a solid punter in Cole Zwiefelhofer, who is averaging 40 yards per punt so far this season. The Coyotes' kicker is 2-2 on the year with kicks of 25 yards and 34 yards, so he hasn't really been tested much.

For the Wildcats, Jeff Budzien proved himself to be a very reliable kicker in his much-needed role against Boston College. He was a perfect 5-5 and provided almost all of NU's scoring. Brandon Williams is averaging around 38 yards per punt, but it isn't likely that NU will be punting often in this game. And of course, Venric Mark is a dangerous returner and can change a game in a matter of seconds if left in the open field.

Advantage: Northwestern

Intangibles…

South Dakota is coming off a win against Colgate, but this will be the toughest game they have played so far this season. For NU, on the other hand, this will likely be one of the easier games on the schedule. That has all the makings of an upset, but don't expect that outcome. Fitzgerald's team is very mature and doesn't appear to be taking the Coyotes lightly. Ryan Field may not be full, but NU will have the students on campus for the first time this season, and a full student section could provide the team with the necessary spark to take momentum early.

Prediction…

The Wildcats will come out of the gates fast in this one, likely scoring touchdowns on their first couple of drives. Expect big play touchdowns for the first time this season instead of long, drawn out drives. Colter and Siemian throw for a touchdown each in the first half, Trumpy or Mark – could be either one – busts off a long touchdown run, and the Wildcats run away with it early. Redshirt freshman Zack Oliver sees a lot of playing time in the second half as NU coasts.

Northwestern: 49, South Dakota: 13


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