Gophers fall to 2-9 with loss to Northwestern
- Blog Post by: Phil Miller
- November 19, 2011 - 2:04 PM
EVANSTON, Ill. -- The Gophers' defense recovered from an awful start Saturday. But their offense couldn't do the same.
Minnesota allowed Northwestern to score touchdowns on their first three drives in Ryan Field, and dropped passes and turnovers prevented the Gophers from rallying. Two Gophers rushed for more than 100 yards for the first time in five years, but Minnesota dropped to 2-9 with a 28-13 loss to the Wildcats.
Northwestern, now 6-5 after winning its fourth straight game and eligible to take part in a fourth consecutive bowl game, took advantage of great field position to score three first-quarter touchdowns on drives of 54, 43 and 38 yards. Minnesota's defense then held the Wildcats scoreless until the fourth quarter, but the offense couldn't catch up in the meantime.
A trio of dropped passes killed potential scoring drives, and Minnesota also lost a fumble by Duane Bennett and an interception in the end zone by MarQueis Gray.
Those crucial mistakes nullified the strong running games turned in by that duo. Bennett became the 13th Gopher to run for 2,000 career yards by gaining 127 yards, while Gray rushed for 147 yards of his own. That made them the first pair of Gophers to reach triple figures in the same game since Alex Daniels had 155 yards and Amir Pinnix 114 in a 2006 victory over Kent State.
The Wildcats needed only 86 seconds to reach the end zone for the first time, taking a 7-0 lead on a 7-yard pass from Dan Persa to Kain Colter. Minnesota responded with an equally quick drive, going 66 yards in just 2:25, with Gray bulling his way into the end zone on a 5-yard scoring rush.
But Northwestern's next two drives, aided by great field position -- the Wildcats started in Gophers territory both times, thanks to a long kick return and a 9-yard punt -- were almost as effortless, and the Gophers couldn't keep up. They hurt themselves with a mental error, too, defending two straight plays with only 10 men on the field, the latter of them a 28-yard touchdown pass from Persa to Demetrius Fields.
The Gophers finally found a way to stop the Wildcats in the second period. Minnesota safety Kim Royston picked off a Persa pass to kill one drive -- the Gophers' first interception since Troy Stoudermire's pick against Miami (Ohio), back in mid-September -- and the Gophers forced Northwestern to punt away their next two drives.
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