MarQueis Gray returned to energize the Gophers' offense. But his return was short-lived -- and so was Minnesota's chance at victory.
Gray, who hadn't played since spraining his left knee and ankle on Sept. 15, scored the Gophers' lone touchdown, but when he was re-injured in the third quarter, Minnesota couldn't score again. The result was a 21-13 loss to Northwestern, dropping Minnesota to 0-2 in the Big Ten.
Max Shortell started the game as Minnesota's quarterback, and led a 76-yard drive on the Gophers' first possession that ended with a 31-yard field goal by Jordan Wettstein. Gray surprised the Wildcats by lining up at wide receiver during that drive, gaining 16 yards on a sideline pass.
But when Shortell suffered a minor injury on the second drive, Gray took over, and played the rest of the half. He did more than that, too: The senior quarterback energized the Gophers' offense with his running ability, including a 25-yard scoring run that briefly pulled Minnesota within three points.
He led Minnesota to another field goal on their first drive of the second half, but then went down with another injury on the Gophers' next possession, and the offense was never the same. Shortell drove Minnesota inside the 5-yard line late in the fourth quarter, but on fourth-and-goal from the six, he overthrew a fade pass to freshman Andre McDonald and the Gophers' shot at ending their two-game losing streak to the Wildcats was all but gone. The Gophers got the ball back in the final minute, but Shortell was hit in the pocket and fumbled the ball, the Gophers' third turnover of the day.
The first turnover was the most costly -- linebacker Lamonte Edwards fumbled the opening kickoff, and Northwestern tailback Venric Mark scored a touchdown just 11 seconds into the game.
That was just the start for Mark, who battered the Gophers' defense in the same manner that Iowa's Mark Weisman did two weeks ago. After Mark's 27-yard scoring run on the game's first snap, he followed up by racing 47 yards to set up a 2-yard touchdown plunge by quarterback Kain Colter, then ran untouched on a 48-yard scoring romp in the second quarter, finishing the half with 151 yards on only 11 carries, just short of Weisman's 165-yard first half for Iowa.
But just as they had against Iowa, the Gopher defense steadied itself at halftime, and held Northwestern without a point on its last seven possessions.
Mark added only 31 yards after halftime, finishing with 182 yards on the ground. Gray led the Gophers with 86 yards on nine carries, while tailback Donnell Kirkwood added 73 yards on 18 carries.
Shortell completed nine of 19 passes for 103 yards; Gray was 7-for-11 for 66, and one interception.
The second half was played in a light but steady rain, which held down the TCF Bank crowd. Announced attendance was 49,651, but the stadium was roughly two-thirds full.