Undefeated Minnesota wary of Northwestern

Updated: October 3, 2003, 3:43 PM ET

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Glen Mason insists there's little separating undefeated Minnesota from Northwestern, even if their records indicate otherwise.

"They're not far away," the Minnesota coach said. "And potentially we've got a good football team, but we're not far away from going the other way. It's that fine line that you deal with, and we're dealing with it right now."

The No. 21 Gophers (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) are coming off a 20-14 win over Penn State. They play at Northwestern (2-3, 0-1) Saturday and are looking to improve to 6-0 for the first time in 43 years.

Minnesota has won six in a row dating back to last season. The last time they did that was 1961, when they went to the Rose Bowl.

Although their nonconference schedule wasn't the toughest in the nation -- the Gophers beat Tulsa, Troy State, Ohio and Louisiana-Lafayette -- they were impressive in the win at Penn State.

In the win, Marion Barber III rushed for 134 yards to lead a Minnesota rushing attack that gained 250 yards. Barber leads the team with 466 yards rushing and has 11 touchdowns, though he's had help. Four Gophers have rushed for at least 200 yards this season.

Minnesota is third in the country in rushing with 284 yards per game.

"It can be fun for us and it can definitely cause headaches for defenses because they don't know how to approach us," quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said. "With all these guys that we have we can put them in different formations and different sets it just gives our offense so much versatility."

Northwestern hasn't been having much fun at all this season.

The Wildcats opened up with a win at Kansas, and led Air Force 21-7 in their second game when everything fell apart. Quarterback Brett Basanez threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter as Air Force came back to beat the Wildcats 22-21 -- the first of three losses over their next four games.

Northwestern coach Randy Walker has promised to shake things up against the Gophers. For starters, freshman quarterback Alexander Webb expect to see more playing time on Saturday.

"Brett's our quarterback; that's not an issue," Walker said. "But I think (Webb) can contribute to the offense. There are things he can enhance about what we are.

"It's nice to have a quarterback with 4.5 speed, and we have to get him throwing the football some -- he's a very capable thrower, too. It's a nice change-up, and it presents some problems for defenses."

And there is some encouraging news for the Wildcats: they've won five of the last seven meetings between the two teams.

"Don't be fooled by their record," Mason said. "I know I'm not going to be."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index