EVANSTON, ILL. – Gophers coach Jerry Kill just couldn't bear to watch from home.
Kill, who is officially on leave to treat his epilepsy, had his wife, Rebecca, drive him from their home in Minneapolis to Saturday’s game at Northwestern.
Kill watched from the press box coaching booth, though he was said not to be giving instructions. He did address the team at halftime, a team spokesman said.
The Gophers responded with the biggest win of the Kill era, holding on to defeat the Wildcats 20-17 before an announced crowd of 36,587 at Ryan Field.
Mitch Leidner started the game at quarterback for the Gophers (5-2, 1-2 in the Big Ten), but after four first-quarter punts, they gave Philip Nelson another chance.
Nelson immediately drove the Gophers down the field, hitting Derrick Engel with a game-tying, 29-yard touchdown pass. Nelson stayed in the game for the rest of the first half.
Leidner played the first drive of the second half, but after another quick punt, the Gophers turned back to Nelson.
He threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Fruechte, but that got called back because the referees called passing interference on Drew Wolitarsky. It didn’t appear to be a good call.
James Manuel gave the Gophers a 14-7 lead when he picked off Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown.
Northwestern (4-3, 0-3) played without two of its best offensive players, as quarterback Kain Colter and Venric Mark were both out with ankle injuries.
Chris Hawthorne’s 34-yard field goal stretched Minnesota’s lead to 17-7 with 14:55 remaining. Jeff Budzien came back with a 35-yard field goal, trimming the lead to 17-10.
Hawthorne added a 38-yarder, making it 20-10 with 5:24 remaining.
Northwestern came back with a 75-yard touchdown drive, converting on fourth down three times. Gophers cornerback Eric Murray was flagged for a questionable passing interference call on fourth down early in that drive.
Simian hit Tony Jones with a 10-yard touchdown pass, trimming the lead to 20-17 with 2:07 remaining. Nelson scrambled for a first down, clinching the win for the Gophers.