Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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In a Minneapolis minute: NU 24, #20 Minnesota 17

MINNEAPOLIS – All season, Northwestern players and coaches alike have preached two things. Force turnovers. Make big plays.

Safety Brendan Smith did both to secure the Wildcats’ biggest victory of the season.

With 12 seconds left in regulation and the game tied at 17, Smith picked off a tipped pass from Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown, propelling NU to a dramatic 24-17 road victory.

“We just wanted to prove to the country that we’re a contender and that we can play with anybody,” junior defensive end Corey Wootton said. “And we did.”

Before Smith’s pick, the clear star of the game for the Cats (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) was junior quarterback Mike Kafka. Filling in for injured senior starter C.J. Bachér, Kafka had 217 yards rushing, a school record for a quarterback and the most for any NU player since Tyrell Sutton rushed for 244 yards against Wisconsin in 2005.

As good as Kafka was, he couldn’t lead the offense to a go-ahead score in the second half. The game was still tied with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter when Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber threw over the middle for standout wide receiver Eric Decker.

The ball bounced through Decker’s hands and smacked into the chest of NU cornerback David Oredugba. But Oredugba was unable to hold on to the football.

“(The ball) just bounced off my hands,” he said. “The funny thing is, (the players) always make fun of me for my bad hands. So thank the Lord for giving me bad hands.”

Smith was there to corral the interception, and he had only one thought on his mind.

“I got the ball and I just thought touchdown,” he said.

Behind a wall of blockers, Smith raced down the left side of the field, then cut back at the Gophers’ 20-yard line and headed to pay dirt.

“I thought he got tackled,” Wootton said. “I turned to look, and I see him running this way, and I had to keep blocking. I see him get in the end zone, and I was so pumped. I was breathless.”

Smith’s “pick-six” was the only scoring in the second half after both offenses lit up the field in the first two periods.

Like last week, the Cats won the opening coin toss. This time, they elected to receive, and Kafka quickly quieted the Homecoming crowd at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

In his first start since 2006, Kafka looked nothing like the discombobulated quarterback who fumbled on consecutive plays against Indiana last week. The junior attacked the Minnesota defense from the first play, when he put a wicked spin move on a stunned Gophers’ linebacker for an 11-yard run. He capped a seven-play, 78-yard drive with a 36-yard touchdown pass to freshman wideout Jeremy Ebert.

Unfazed by the Cats’ quick start, the No. 20 Gophers (7-2, 3-2) quickly responded. After the defense forced NU to punt, Weber calmly marched his offense up the field, capping a seven-play, 80-yard drive with an 11-yard strike to star wide receiver Eric Decker.

On the Cats’ next drive, Kafka telegraphed an out pass to senior Ross Lane, and the Gophers’ Traye Simmons stepped in front of the pass. Simmons returned the pick 23 yards for the touchdown, and Minnesota had a 14-10 lead.

Kafka responded with a 53-yard run on a two-play touchdown drive, and Minnesota added a field goal near the end of the first half to tie the game at 17. Kafka’s run was two yards shy of his career-high of 55, set against Nevada in 2006.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
In a Minneapolis minute: NU 24, #20 Minnesota 17