Steven Richardson played like a wrecking ball Saturday. Every snap, he delivered 300 pounds of wallop.

His disruptive pass rush resulted in two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He helped spearhead a dominating defensive performance by the Gophers in a 29-12 win over Northwestern in the home finale.

Richardson wasn’t finished at the final horn, though. The defensive tackle carried a large chip on his shoulder into the postgame interview room.

“You know how it kind of went down,” he said.

No, do tell.

“I was like really lowly recruited based on height,” said Richardson, a Chicago native who is generously listed at 6 feet. Wink, wink.

“So I saw that guy come into my high school coach’s office and just look me up and down and just look at me like I’m way too short to play the game,” he continued. “It was really nice to play one of these types of game in front of him, just because he doubted you.”

Richardson later acknowledged that he was referring to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.

The Gophers entire defense played like it was insulted on a frigid afternoon at a half-empty TCF Bank Stadium.

One week after crumbling in the second half at Nebraska, the Gophers defense delivered a dominant response in their most complete outing of the season.

The Gophers collected seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss, two takeaways and seven pass breakups.

“Boy,” Tracy Claeys said, “they played hard.”

Short, to the point and so very accurate.

The Gophers hit hard, swarmed to the ball and refused to concede an inch in several critical situations that could have changed the course of the game.

“We’re not going to give up any points lightly,” Richardson said.

One sequence defined their stinginess.

Northwestern trailed 9-0 late in the first half and had been unable to solve the Gophers’ pressure.

The Wildcats moved inside the red zone, where they faced a fourth-and-1 from the 16 with 3:05 left until halftime. Fitzgerald called timeout to discuss his options.

Gophers linebacker Jack Lynn blew up the play ultimately called before it ever had a chance. He darted through the line and hit running back Justin Jackson for a 3-yard loss.

“We game-planned for them really well,” Lynn said. “It was more about just reacting at that point.”

The Gophers offense left points on the field after repeatedly being given favorable position, but the defense didn’t need much help.

Richardson and Lynn were terrific but everyone pitched in.

Linebacker Blake Cashman continued his recent surge with a team-high 10 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Six players were credited with at least half a sack. Ten players were involved in tackles for loss.

The pass rush was smothering, and holding any team to 2-for-15 on third down is usually a winning formula.

“Pass rush and run stopping,” Richardson said. “They really couldn’t do anything.”

The Gophers lost their shutout bid in the third quarter after yet another targeting penalty caused tempers to flare on the field.

Safety Duke McGhee became the seventh Gophers player ejected for targeting this season after his helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Austin Carr. That targeting call was a no-brainer.

The Wildcats took advantage to cut the lead to 15-6. Fitzgerald gambled by going for two with plenty of time left, but the conversion failed.

Fitzgerald made another head-scratching decision after his team caused a fumble by Jalen Myrick on the ensuing kickoff return.

The Gophers defense held to set up fourth-and-1 at the 13 with less than a minute left in the third quarter. Rather than attempt a 30-yard field goal and potentially cut the lead to six points before the start of the fourth quarter, Fitzgerald went for it again. A fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

That felt like a last-ditch effort. The Wildcats had no answer for a Gophers defense that fell apart in a deflating loss last week.

If reviewing their second half at Nebraska felt agonizing, the Gophers should take delight in watching this performance back.

 

Chip Scoggins chip.scoggins@startribune.com