Gophers football at Northwestern: 3 things to watch

Braelen Oliver #14 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers celebrates with teammates after breaking up a pass intended for Jack Coldiron #89 of the Miami (Oh) Redhawks in the first quarter of the game at Huntington Bank Stadium on September 11, 2021 in Minne ((Photo by David Berding/Getty Images))

The University of Minnesota football team is taking a three-game win streak to Northwestern Saturday afternoon, and can earn bowl eligibility with a win over the Wildcats.

More important, the Gophers can stay atop the Big Ten West standings with a victory. Minnesota is currently tied with Iowa at 3-1, and the Hawkeyes are in Madison taking on Wisconsin in a game with division implications for both teams. At the half, Wisconsin had a 20-0 lead on the No. 9-ranked Hawkeyes.

Here are three things to watch ahead of Saturday’s game.


The Gophers ran the ball 56 times for 326 yards and had four rushing touchdowns in last Saturday’s 34-16 win over Maryland. Ky Thomas led Minnesota with 21 carries for 143 yards and a touchdown. Mar’Keise Irving had 15 carries for 105 yards and a score. Two weeks ago, the Gophers ran 43 times for 182 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska.

Northwestern is last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing opponents to run for 218 yards per game. Minnesota is fourth in the league in rushing. Look for the Gophers’ offensive line to take control, and the run game to get going early.


The Gophers are second in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing just 85.7 yards per game and about three yards per carry. Those numbers are also top 10 in the country. Minnesota’s task Saturday is containing Maple Grove native Evan Hull, who leads the Wildcats in rushing and had a 75-yard touchdown run against Michigan last week. Hull has 675 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the season.

Maryland ran for just 88 yards last week against Minnesota. Nebraska ran for 136, but the Gophers limited Adrian Martinez to -17 rushing yards.


Minnesota is 2-0 on the road this season, with wins at Colorado and at Purdue. The Gophers are 7.5-point favorites, the first time in a long time they’ve been favored in a Big Ten road game. Minnesota and Northwestern did not play last year, as the game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues with the Gophers. The Wildcats won the Big Ten West title last year, and have taken it two out of the last three years.

But the Wildcats have lost two out of their last three, while Minnesota has won three straight since a 14-10 loss to Bowling Green. It’s a game the Gophers have to win if they expect to contend for the Big Ten West. We’ll find out during pregame warm-ups if receiver Daniel Jackson will play. He’s missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury.