Gophers replay No. 24 Northwestern 24, Gophers 14
The Gophers couldn’t build off the momentum of their 41-10 rout of Purdue a week earlier and lost to the Big Ten West Division champion Wildcats in their 2018 TCF Bank Stadium finale. Three turnovers, a missed field-goal attempt and a failed fourth-down attempt deep in Northwestern territory combined to doom the Gophers.
“We didn’t deserve to win that football game,’’ Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “We knew coming into [Saturday] we would have to play as close to perfect playing that team. There’s a reason why they’re 7-1 in the league.’’
The Gophers (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) tied the score 7-7 with 2:18 left in the first half, but the Wildcats (7-4, 7-1) responded with a 39-yard kick return and a three-play touchdown drive that put them up for good, 13-7, with 1:12 to play in the half.
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Among the 15 Gophers who participated in the senior walk before Saturday’s game were four fourth-year juniors, which signaled that they won’t be returning to the team next year. Those players were tight end Colton Beebe, offensive lineman Bronson Dovich, running back Jonathan Femi-Cole and wide receiver Matt Morse. In addition, senior running back Rodney Smith, who was lost for the season because of a knee injury, walked with his classmates but plans to play next season. The Gophers will seek a sixth year of eligibility for Smith from the NCAA after the season.
Fitz wants respect
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was good enough as a linebacker in the 1990s to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. His competitive streak showed after the game when he was asked about his Wildcats being underdogs against the Gophers. Oddsmakers opened with Northwestern as four-point favorites last Sunday, but the line moved to the Gophers being favored by 2 on Saturday.
“It was insulting,’’ Fitzgerald fumed. “We come up here as underdogs, are you kidding me? It’s a joke. To me that was a joke.’’ Fitzgerald drove home the point with a vulgarity.
Up next: at Wisconsin
2:30 p.m. Saturday Camp Randall Stadium
TV (radio): ESPN2 (100.3-FM)
The skinny: The Badgers (7-4, 5-3) entered the season with Big Ten title and College Football Playoff hopes, but a Week 3 loss to Brigham Young signaled trouble ahead, and losses to Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State followed.
Wisconsin rebounded Saturday with a 47-44 triple-overtime victory at Purdue in which sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor rushed 33 times for a career-high 321 yards and three touchdowns. His 17-yard TD run in the third overtime was the winner.
“He was big-time,’’ Badgers coach Paul Chryst said of Taylor. “It was a heck of an effort.’’