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NORTHWESTERN LOOKS TO CRASH HOMECOMING IN MINNESOTA’S NEW HOT SPOT

Posted By Ben Chiswick On Sep 29 2010 @ 6:53 pm In Northwestern | No Comments

A brand new season begins on Saturday, and the Northwestern Wildcats (4-0) will be spending it with an old friend in a new house.

Big Ten play opens this weekend, where the undefeated Wildcats visit the struggling Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-3) at the brand new TCF Bank Stadium right in the heart of campus. While the Twins more famously left the old Metrodome for Target Field, the Gophers found a new place to play with slightly less fanfare.

This is actually an important game for Minnesota, who may be staring down the barrel of a winless inaugural season in their new digs. After suffering home losses already to South Dakota and Northern Illinois, the rest of their home schedule consists of visits from Big Ten powerhouses Penn State (#22, #20), Ohio State (#2) and Iowa (#17, #18).

Wow.

No wonder they scheduled homecoming early for this week’s match-up with Northwestern. But while the new facility and the surrounding campus will surely be overflowing with painted chests and inebriated coeds, the good times will have nothing to do with the game being played on the field.

Minnesota cannot stop the run, giving up an average of 187.8 yards-per-game on the ground. While they have been more successful stopping the passing game – intercepting more than one pass-per-game and yielding less than 200 yards-per-game – they are going to struggle with Dan Persa.

The Wildcats’ quarterback has been as hot as anybody in the land, ranking nationally among the Division I leaders with an 80.2 completion percentage (1st), a 186.3 passing efficiency (T-2nd), and 305.3 total yards-per-game (12th). He can control a game with both his arm and his legs, and has been picking apart defenses with a surgeon’s precision. Persa also rarely turns the ball over, boasting eight touchdowns with just one interception.

Meanwhile, a fairly productive Minnesota offense will be taking on a powerful and continually improving Wildcats’ defensive unit.

The Gophers are led by redshirt senior quarterback Adam Weber, no slouch with a 145.1 passing efficiency of his own. He has thrown for 1,005 yards with seven touchdowns and just three interceptions, while converted quarterback MarQueis Gray has emerged as his primary target with 82 receiving yards-per-game and three scores.

Duane Bennett handles the ground game, rushing for 4.7 yards-per-carry, 92.8 yards-per-game and finding the end zone twice.

Outside of a 32-21 loss to Southern Cal two weeks ago, however, Minnesota has not seen a team as strong as Northwestern.

The ‘Cats defense has allowed just 15.5 points-per-game while forcing eight interceptions – tops in the Big Ten – and 12 turnovers.

All the while, Northwestern has emerged 4-0 despite a pair of road tests under the lights against solid programs in Vanderbilt and Rice. The Wildcats have yet to trail at any point this season, winning by an average score of 30-16. Conference games on the road are never easy, but the purple are poised for a start to the season that could easily turn to 6-0 after a date with Purdue at Ryan Field on October 9.

I’m allowed to look ahead and say things like that.

Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats will not fall into that trap.

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