Northwestern had not shut out a Big Ten team for 20 years until doing it to the Gophers to the tune of 27-0 in Evanston, Ill., on Saturday.
Nobody expected the Wildcats, who struggled to beat Ball State last week 24-19, to dominate the Gophers offensively, defensively and even on special teams like they did. Northwestern held the Maroon and Gold to 2.2 yards per rush and a total of 173 yards of offense (74 rushing, 99 passing). The Gophers offensive and defensive lines might have had their worst day in Jerry Kill’s five years as coach.
The Wildcats’ Justin Jackson ran for 120 yards and freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson scored on runs of 1 and 5 yards. On offense, the Gophers didn’t open any holes for their backs to run and did a bad job protecting their quarterbacks, too.
Offensively, it got so bad that Kill went back on a vow that he would not play quarterback Demry Croft this year when he inserted the highly ranked freshman in the third quarter. Mitch Leidner, who had a big day last week in leading the Gophers past Ohio, was running for his life with no protection from the offensive line as he completed 10 of 21 passes for 72 yards that included an interception as well as a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
Those in the media who looked for Croft to be the next Tom Brady if he got an opportunity to play had to be disappointed by his 5-for-11 day for 27 yards as he was almost intercepted three times and got sacked the same number. Rest assured, Croft is not in Leidner’s class because of his inexperience.
Northwestern’s defense has given up only three touchdowns in five games. so maybe it wasn’t a case of the Gophers offense being so bad but the fact the Wildcats are that good defensively.
Of course it didn’t help that the Gophers gave up two TDs on turnovers.
College teammates united
There can’t be many teams in the NFL that are like the Vikings, who feature three sets of teammates that all played together in college, and at positions where they interacted with each other often. The teammates have all been drafted since Rick Spielman took over general manager responsibilities in 2012.
The most recent example is the selecting of linebackers Anthony Barr (No. 9 overall in 2014) and Eric Kendricks (No. 45 overall in 2015) out of UCLA.
Then there was the 2012 draft when Spielman grabbed safeties Harrison Smith (No. 9 overall) and Robert Blanton (No. 139 overall) out of Notre Dame.
In 2012 both Matt Kalil (No. 4) and Rhett Ellison (No. 128) were picked from Southern California. Ellison is a tight end but did a lot of blocking protection schemes at USC with left tackle Kalil and continues to do that here with the Vikings.
The pattern with Spielman seems to be selecting a star player early in the draft — Barr, Smith and Kalil were all first-rounders — and then draft their teammates at a later point, hoping they can help each other improve at the pro level.
Playing together unlikely
Kendricks, who had a team-high nine tackles last week against San Diego, said it never really crossed his mind he would be playing professionally with Barr.
“Definitely not,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy. Everyone goes to different teams, especially from the same [college] team, but it all worked out.”
Kendricks talked about his reaction to finding out he would be playing with a former teammate in the pros. “It was excitement,” he said. “It’s pretty uncommon that happens, the same linebackers from the same school, but it happened.”
Kendricks and Barr played four years together at UCLA, with Kendricks, who redshirted a season, working the inside and Barr the outside.
“That is one of my best friends from college and now we just continue the friendship,” Kendricks said.
Kalil, Ellison contribute
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer talked about the great start to the season Kalil has had.
“Kalil is playing very well,” Zimmer said. “This whole year he has come in, and he played with a mean streak, so he’s getting better with his technique, getting more confidence, and now if we can keep developing the attitude he has I think we’re on the right track.”
The stats bear that out. Pro Football Focus noted this past week that Kalil has allowed just three QB pressures this season, whereas a year ago at this time he had allowed three sacks and 14 pressures.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner talked about the play of Ellison and praised his versatility. “Rhett’s doing the same things he was doing for us a year ago,” Turner said. “He’s smart, he plays multiple positions, he’s a good run blocker, he’s an excellent pass protector. When he gets a chance to have the ball in his hands he’s a good runner after the catch. We rely on him to do a great number of things.”
There’s no question that Spielman has a plan when it comes to trying to find teammates that can continue to improve as pros, and so far that plan is working.
• Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s father, Archie, played for the Vikings in 1983 and ’84. One of the interesting facts about his career here is that he was sacked nine times in a 14-9 loss to the Bears in 1984. In that game, the Bears totaled 11 sacks, with two coming against Wade Wilson. In September 1983, Vikings General Manager Mike Lynn, thinking the team could win a division title, acquired five-time Pro Bowl tight end Dave Casper along with Manning from the Houston Oilers for two draft choices, but the team ended up only 8-8.
• Peyton Manning is 3-0 against the Vikings and has completed 76.2 percent of his passes for 862 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions, good for a QB rating of 120.7.
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on people questioning the arm strength of the 39-year-old Manning: “It’s hard for me to know about his arm strength or anything like that. All I know is that I saw him throw a 25-yard comeback with a 10-yard drop on a perfect throw to the sideline.”
• A couple of former Vikings coaches are now working for the Broncos: Denver outside linebackers coach Fred Pagac was the defensive coordinator here in 2011 and worked with the Vikings from 2010 to 2013, and defensive backs coach Joe Woods held that job here from 2006 to 2013.
• With the news that the Tigers will retain manager Brad Ausmus for next season, look for former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was rumored to be a candidate for that job, to be considered by the Padres.
• The Twins will send a number of their top prospects to play with Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League: pitchers Nick Burdi, Trevor Hildenberger, Jake Reed and Taylor Rogers, catchers Mitch Garver and Stuart Turner and outfielder Adam Brett Walker.