Minnesota Golden Gophers at Northwestern Wildcats Game Preview

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Saturday afternoon brings a match-up of master vs. apprentice, teacher vs. student, sort of. Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald didn’t tutor Minnesota head man P.J. Fleck, in any way, but he did directly inspire him.

Fleck himself has said as much, and then you have the famous story of their 2017 power lunch. Yes, Fleck, then an assistant on the staff of his alma mater, Northern Illinois, called every coach he had in his contacts folder, offering to take them out to lunch, and pick their brain about how to become a successful college football coach.

Only one, Fitzgerald, took him up on that offer, and this story really shows you what a genuine good guy, Fitz really is, at heart.

If you are going bet on the game, then click here. You’ll see that the Gophers are backed to the tune of -115 on the money line, and favored by a touchdown. ESPN matchup predictor gives Minnesota a 67.1% of winning on Saturday. Thus far, the two men have met four times, with Fitzgerald leading the series 2-1 on an aggregate point differential of +33.

Saturday, Oct. 30

2:30 p.m. CT – Northwestern vs. Minnesota (WGN Radio AM-720; BTN) Social media hashtags for this game are #B1GCATS #B1G #Gophers #SkiUMah #RowTheBoat

Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview (5-2, 3-1)

While the Bowling Green Massacre was indeed embarrassing (#NeverForget Kellyanne Conway), this team has rebounded and they will be a factor in the Big Ten West race. Their only league loss was on opening night, by two possessions, to Ohio State.

Fleck is about as entertaining a coach as you’ll find, at least when it comes to the press conference game, in the Big Ten.

He has the ability to converse about many many topics, beyond just football. But of course, he’s a pretty good football coach too.

He has his team playing in a way that figuratively fits their name sake. If you have an at least entry level knowledge of zoology, then you know Gophers make their living on/in the ground.

That’s exactly what this team does.

This UM team has had five different 100 yard rushers this season, this is the first time that has happened in a century! Four different players had rushing TDs last week in their blowout of Minnesota. They are indeed doing “running back by committee” this season.

You remember what Fleck said at Big Ten Media Day, the pair, the spare, and the air in the spare, at the tailback position.

You can always find time, to bust a rhyme, as long you’re a poet and you don’t even know it.

Enjoy this dope ass flow in rap battle mode. Minnesota has won 8 of their last 9 in the league, and they bring a very strong offensive line to town. They put up 326 yards rushing, and no sacks allowed last week. While Minnesota, traditionally, has lacked NFL caliber, or even stellar, OL that has certainly changed now.

Their offensive line is one that is truly to be reckoned with.

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“All you got to do is pop on the tape, I feel everybody in the conference feels the same way,” said Fitzgerald.

“They’ll play their starting group and then they’ll go into multiple packages with six, seven or eight guys to create double teams and advantages.”

Minnesota’s offensive line is deep, talented, and although they rotate a lot, they all end up on the same page, creating a lot of challenges to game plan against.

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Northwestern Wildcats Preview (3-4, 1-3) 

Northwestern has struggled this season, stringing wins together, but if they are to end up going bowling this season, then they absolutely need to get this one. period. full stop.

This team could end up challenging 2019 for the dubious distinction of being the worst of the Fitzgerald era. Or they could finish strong and register a long term reputation that is in the same vein of the 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016 kind of mediocrity.

Much, if not most, of it depends on how they shore up their leaky run defense.

And it starts this week, against a team with a lot to prove. NU can really send a strong message here, about how they’ll play out the string, in what they do here against a division title contender.

“I think coach Fleck has done a phenomenal job since he got there in doing what they want to do,” said Fitzgerald.

“This is probably the most experienced team in the Big Ten, I think their offensive line has like 500 starts collectively between them…Coach has done a great job in both stops, in Western Michigan and Minnesota, we’ve known each other a long time, got a lot of respect for the job that he does.”

Ryan Hilinksi probably should have been the starting quarterback since day one, but he’s here now and he’ll lead an an attack that should primarily be staged through the air. While Northwestern would like a much more balanced attack, and an improved ground game, they really have had a lot of issues in the run game this season.

Prediction: Minnesota Golden Gophers 27, Northwestern Wildcats 17

These two sides are not far apart in terms of talent, and roster strength, but this is just a really poor matchup for the hosts. Run defense if NU’s bugaboo and rushing offense is MN’s calling card; which makes this one rather straight forward in the sizing up.

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

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