Every facet of the Wildcats’ game was flowing on Saturday.
Northwestern has won six games in a row, and Minnesota fell to 2-6 in conference play.
The Wildcats took care of the Golden Gophers 39-0.
EVANSTON, Ill. — Last season, P.J. Fleck’s over-performing Western Michigan Broncos marched into Ryan Field and stole a 22-21 victory over Northwestern. Today, Fleck got another chance to upset the Wildcats, this time in his first year as the head coach of Minnesota.
Unfortunately for Fleck, Minnesota showed up for this game just as well as fans turned out at Ryan Field: poorly. They struggled on both sides of the ball en route to a 39-0 Northwestern blowout victory.
Fleck and the Golden Gophers came to Evanston seeking their third conference win of the season, following a 54-21 thumping of the struggling Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Coach Fitzgerald and his Wildcats had a different agenda, coming into the game with five wins in a row, three coming in overtime. The postseason eligible Wildcats needed a good showing against a toiling Minnesota team to prove they belonged in a prominent bowl game.
With the conditions in Evanston emulating the Grateful Dead song “Cold Rain and Snow,” it only made sense for both teams to commit to run-heavy offenses. Of course, they worked to varying degrees of success.
Northwestern hit paydirt in the running game against the Golden Gophers with the two-headed monster combination of workhorse Justin Jackson and his freshman counterpart, Jeremy Larkin.
Jackson tied his season high total of 171 yards on 31 carries, and cemented his legacy as a premier college football running back. More on that later.
Minnesota struggled in the run game, producing just 139 yards and feature back Rodney Smith gaining the bulk.
Northwestern had a productive start to the second quarter, as they capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive with Jeremy Larkin galloping into the end zone from five yards out to put the Wildcats on the board first. On Minnesota’s ensuing drive, Northwestern cornerback Montre Hartage corralled a fumble forced by defensive tackle Ben Oxley, giving the Wildcats another chance to score.
They capitalized, as quarterback Clayton Thorson hit superback Garrett Dickerson, who powered his way into the endzone on a short crossing route. The Wildcats failed to tack on an extra point, as Charlie Kuhbander’s kick was blocked and they were flagged for illegal formation, giving the Wildcats a 13-0 advantage.
Late in the first half, Minnesota quarterback Demry Croft was picked off by Montre Hartage on just his third passing attempt of the game, giving the Wildcats the ball with just 15 yards to the goal line.
Junior receiver Jelani Roberts even got in on the action, scoring his first career touchdown on a jet sweep. Fitzgerald opted to attempt a two-point conversion to give the Wildcats a more conventional 21-0 lead. Thorson rolled out to his right, and fired a bullet to receiver Bennett Skowronek, which was batted down, keeping the score at 19-0 Northwestern.
Dickerson’s day continued, as the dependable superback dogged his way into the endzone for another score on an 18-yard pass from Thorson. The Wildcats failed on another two-point attempt, leaving the score at 25-0, where it would stay until late in the third quarter.
Northwestern safety Kyle Queiro secured his fourth interception of the season in the third quarter, as he nabbed a Croft throw into pressure.
It was a good day at the office for the Northwestern secondary, even though Minnesota’s star receiver, sophomore Tyler Johnson didn’t play.
After a 36 yard interception return by Queiro into Minnesota territory, it took just four plays to get back into the endzone. Bennett Skowronek snagged his second pass of the day, a 13-yard touchdown off a deceptive play action fake. Skowronek leads the Wildcats in touchdown catches with four.
It was one of just 13 attempts today by Clayton Thorson. Coach Fitzgerald explained the lack of passing, saying it was a, “tough day to throw.”
Nate Hall, who had himself a career day with seven tackles, two and a half sacks, and even an interception, recovered a fumble early on in the fourth quarter. On Northwestern’s first play following the fumble, senior tailback Corey Acker was given his first touch of the season, and he made the most of it, streaking past the Minnesota defense for a 24-yard touchdown, the first of his career.
- Justin Jackson secured his place in college football history with his performance today, as he became just the second player in Big Ten history to rush for over 1,000 yards in all four of his seasons. The first, of course, is legendary Wisconsin ball carrier Ron Dayne. Jackson is the ninth in FBS history to reach the milestone.
- Minnesota hasn’t scored in Evanston since 2012, back when Jerry Kill was their head coach. The Golden Gophers were also shut out 27-0 at Ryan Field in 2015.