Know Thy Opponent: Northwestern

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The Gophers face high-powered Northwestern this weekend. We spoke with Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune to learn more about the Wildcats. You can follow Greenstein on Twitter @TeddyGreenstein.

GopherSports: Teddy, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Can you give us a brief scouting report on Northwestern?

Teddy Greenstein: This Northwestern team is way different than what we saw the past two years. It's an extreme example, but the old offense was what the Wildcats showed in the 2010 Outback Bowl, a 38-35 loss to Auburn. They attempted 78 throws, racked up 532 passing yards but gained just 114 on the ground.

These Wildcats rank 14th nationally in rushing offense, at 233.5 yards per game. They're at their best with a backfield of tailback Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter, running the option. Trevor Siemian is a pure passer who now gets most of the snaps at quarterback and is completing 65.8 percent of his throws. Colter was uncoverable (if that's a word) against Indiana as a slot receiver (131 yards), but Penn State bottled him up (17 yards).

Defensively, Northwestern is strong against the run (15th nationally, 102.7 yards per game) but vulnerable to good passing attacks. Penn State's Matt McGloin had little trouble torching NU's secondary last week, completing 35 of 51 passes for 282 yards and two scores.

NU's special teams have been excellent with Mark returning two punts for scores and Jeff Budzien perfect on 11 field-goal tries.

GS: You mentioned Kain Colter, who is a do-it-all athlete. Where can fans expect to see him on Saturday?

TG: Kain is a superb runner, and teammates say he has "the wiggles." He's terrific on read-option plays, and Indiana could not cover him as a slot receiver. But Penn State found a way. He's also an effective passer, especially on shorter routes, but did not attempt a pass at State College.

GS: Who is an under-the-radar player that Gopher fans should keep an eye on on Saturday?

TG: Linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo (great name) is always around the football. He intercepted a deflected pass at Syracuse and returned a fumble for a touchdown. A week later he was the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Week for his three tackles-for-loss against Vanderbilt. He recovered a fumble against Boston College and had 12 tackles at Penn State.

GS: Finish this thought. Northwestern will win if...

TG: If the Wildcats can get back to what coach Pat Fitzgerald calls their "blueprint" - running lots of play, hogging the clock, wearing down the defense. NU's ideal touchdown drive is 15 plays, 80 yards - and at a super-fast, no-huddle tempo. Penn State swiped that blueprint Saturday, running 99 plays to NU's 61. The result was that NU's defenders were gassed in the fourth quarter, in which they got outscored 22-0.

GS: Teddy, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. We appreciate it.

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