Northwest football meets Minnesota in the Battle of Big Ten West

Northwest football meets Minnesota in the Battle of Big Ten West

In the face of rain and gale force winds, Northwestern nearly accomplished a miracle Saturday against Ohio State No. 2.

Playing The Wildcats (1-8, 1-5 Big Ten) as a resurgent team: High school seemingly exposed all of the Buckeyes’ weaknesses (9-0, 6-0), sophomore quarterback Brendan Sullivan demonstrated his ability to create electric play and Playing was gritty across the field. But Ohio State ranked among the best for a reason, and the second-half comeback sealed NU’s eighth loss in a row.

Now, in the sky for a contest against Minnesota, the Cats are looking for their first US win in 389 days. Golden Gopher, seeded fifth in the Big Ten West, is looking to win his third straight competition against NU.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on as you meet Minnesota and the cats on Saturday.

  1. Can the NU Defense recreate the magic of Ohio State?

Certainly, it was a loss. But after losing eight games in a row, the country’s second-placed team holding just 21 points – their lowest total since facing Notre Dame in September – looks like an achievement.

The Cat Defense delivered a dynamic and comprehensive performance for the team on Saturday. Rookie linebacker Bryce Gallagher led the NU with seven tackles, joined by 11 other teammates who scored at least one tackle. Their efforts were key to frustrating the Buckeyes, who looked away from their element for most of the first half.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald credited the Cats’ defense for their strong performance on Saturday, saying the number of passes he broke apart and individual stances marked him.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with the wind,” Fitzgerald said. “It had a lot to do with the way our men were executed.”

On paper, the Golden Gopher should pose less of a challenge. Minnesota’s offense ranks sixth in the Big Ten – seemingly less frightening than Unit #1 in Ohio.

But the Golden Gophers know how to deliver plays when it counts, ranking first in the Big Ten in third transfers down. Fitzgerald said Minnesota is effective in the first and second landings, which leads to “helpful” situations in the third touchdown. It would be worth watching if the NU’s defense could hold its own against the valiant Golden Gophers’ attack.

2. Weather takes center stage again

Temperatures are dropping, the wind is blowing and football is on fire in the Big Ten.

Saturday’s competition against the Buckeyes drew national wild weather attention. Winds reached 80 mph in Cook County during the match, nearly delaying the weather.

The Cats vs Minnesota match would make it two in a row. Certainly, there will be no wild winds. But the high will be 31 degrees on Saturday – a big drop from the balmy 62 degrees against Ohio State.

Fitzgerald said sudden weather changes make Big Ten fun. Before kick-off against the Golden Gopher, he said the Cats focus on taking everything in stride.

“You have to lean on that,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s what we’re talking about here: You embrace it and you enjoy it.”

3. Another ditch hope to win Big Ten West

Did you know NU can still win the Big Ten West? Well, now you do.

Regardless of whether that perfect storm could happen, the Cats competition against Minnesota kicks off the run at the end of the season and, eventually, the Big Ten.

Sitting at 1-8 and riding an eight-game losing streak, the stakes are high for NU’s next three games against the Golden Gophers, Purdue and Illinois. Pot eligibility may be out of the question. Achieving the Big Ten West title is perhaps unimaginable. But the Cats have a chance to claim their first win since Week 0 and prove that a dynamic performance against Ohio State was no fluke.

For Fitzgerald, focusing on the basics was key to preparing for the challenging task ahead.

“We have to keep stressing what’s important, that’s the essence of football,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s consistent execution. She plays clean football for 60 minutes.”

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