The Daily Northwestern
MINNEAPOLIS — Maybe it was the running back in Jeff Backes that took over when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the first quarter of Saturday’s loss.
If even for a moment, the former running back and current cornerback brought some momentum to Northwestern’s sideline and the score to within four at 14-10.
“One thing we’re always saying is that the kickoff return team’s in charge of momentum,” Backes said. “We’ve got a lot of guys blocking and two guys back there ready to take it to the house. Of course after a play like that we’re going to be pretty fired up.”
The Wildcats weren’t able to hold the momentum Backes got them, but the return did represent the Cats’ first touchdown in the first quarter this season. NU’s field goal earlier in the game were the team’s first points in the first quarter this season.
The run was Backes’ first kick-off return for a touchdown, and was the fifth-longest return in school history.
The last player to return a kick-off for a touchdown was former running back Jason Wright who had a 100-yard return in 2001 against Texas Christian.
As NU quarterback Brett Basanez dove into the end zone in the third quarter, a hard hit to his right side knocked him over and caused him to sprain his right shoulder.
The injury wasn’t serious enough to keep him out for much of the game, but the drive he sat out gave redshirt freshman Chris Malleo his first college football game action.
“I definitely got more comfortable as things progressed,” Malleo said. “I haven’t been on an actual football field playing in over a year. I was just trying to make good decisions, not turn it over and put the team in a position to score. Obviously I wasn’t really able to do that.”
Malleo played two drives before Basanez returned to the game. He ran the ball or handed it off to a running back on all but one play.
He returned again in garbage time and completed his first collegiate pass to running back Terrell Jordan for six yards.
Malleo finished the game with six yards passing and 28 yards rushing.
“I think it was good that he got his feet wet, he’ll learn a lot from this, and that’s good,” coach Randy Walker said. “He got a handful of snaps today that he can improve or go from.”
TV Saves Cats
NU got its first taste of instant replay in the second quarter.
Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito threw a 10-yard pass to receiver Paris Hamilton from the 50-yard line. Hamilton dropped and recovered the ball as he hit the ground. Initially the play was called a fumble and recovery.
After a four-minute review, the call was overturned and the pass was ruled incomplete.
The call left the Gophers with third-and-eight, but they scored on the next play on a 50-yard touchdown pass to Hamilton.
Inches to go
NU’s offensive performance of 267 total yards and 127 passing yards represented the fewest yards they have gained in a game all season. Its season average for passing yards is 311 yards per game…Defensive tackle Colby Clark blocked two point-after-touchdown attempts by Rhys Lloyd on consecutive scoring drives in the second quarter. The Cats had not blocked a PAT in 14 games…Minnesota’s 43-point performance was the most points they have scored in a Big Ten home opener in 19 years. On Oct. 15, 1985, the Gophers defeated Purdue 45-15.
Reach Tania Ganguli at [email protected]