2011 Northwestern Wildcats Football

 
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Northwestern Wildcats vs Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Preview

 

 

Northwestern merchandise A month ago, the Northwestern Wildcats couldn’t have imagined that they’d return to a bowl game for the fourth straight season. Now look where they are.

Northwestern (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten) will try to become bowl eligible when it faces the Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-8, 1-5) on Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.

Northwestern has won three in a row. Last week, the Wildcats pummeled Rice 28-6 in a nonconference matchup. Dan Persa threw for a career-high 372 yards, and Jeremy Ebert had a career-high 208 yards receiving. The Wildcats piled up 533 yards of total offense.

Before their current win streak, which also includes a road upset of Nebraska, the Wildcats had lost five in a row. Their metamorphosis – a transformation forged despite injuries to Persa and pronounced inconsistency on both sides of the ball – has given ballast and belief to a program that looked lifeless and beyond hope in the latter stages of October. Northwestern spent the first half of this college football season losing multiple halftime leads and getting drilled in the second half. Coach Pat Fitzgerald drew warranted criticism for being outschemed after halftime, but his ability to rally his players from the depths of that 2-5 start has shown why his career still holds a measure of promise and possibility. Getting Northwestern back to a bowl game would be an impressive feat, even though the Wildcats clearly underachieved in the first seven games of 2011.

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The Wildcats still rank just 83rd nationally in total defense, but Minnesota will have to deal with an improving Northwestern defense on Saturday. Two weeks ago, the Wildcats held Nebraska to 122 rushing yards in a shocking win in Lincoln. Last week, Northwestern shut out Rice until the Owls scored a meaningless late touchdown. Northwestern’s offense is ranked 36th in the nation in both passing and rushing.

Minnesota was outgained 461-156 in a 42-13 loss at home against Wisconsin last week. The Gophers did not score an offensive touchdown. Minnesota ranks 112th nationally in scoring offense, and 104th in scoring defense.

Minnesota’s first-year starting quarterback Marqueis Gray, a 6-4, 240-pound former wide receiver, has thrown for 1,286 yards and run for 639 this season. Two weeks ago, Gray threw for 295 yards in a close loss at powerful Michigan State.

Northwestern has won three of its last four matchups with Minnesota by a total of nine points. Last season, the Wildcats came back from a fourth-quarter deficit to win 29-28 in Minneapolis.

 

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

 

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