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Football: Missed opportunities leave Wildcats empty-handed in Minnesota

Justin+Jackson+tries+to+keep+his+balance.+The+junior+running+back+and+the+Wildcats+failed+to+take+advantage+of+several+opportunities+in+Saturday%E2%80%99s+loss+to+Minnesota.
Justin Jackson tries to keep his balance. The junior running back and the Wildcats failed to take advantage of several opportunities in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota.

Justin Jackson tries to keep his balance. The junior running back and the Wildcats failed to take advantage of several opportunities in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota.

Allie Goulding/The Daily Northwestern

Allie Goulding/The Daily Northwestern

Justin Jackson tries to keep his balance. The junior running back and the Wildcats failed to take advantage of several opportunities in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota.

Max Schuman, Sports Editor

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Football


MINNEAPOLIS — When junior linebacker Anthony Walker stripped Minnesota kick returner Jalen Myrick to give Northwestern, then trailing 15-6, the ball at the Golden Gophers’ 21-yard line late in the third quarter, it seemed like the tide was turning.

But four plays later, nothing had changed. The Wildcats (5-6, 4-4 Big Ten) misfired on a fourth-and-one to end the drive — neither the first nor the last time NU came up empty-handed after driving into Minnesota (8-3, 5-3) territory in Saturday’s 29-12 loss.

Despite putting big numbers on the scoreboard multiple times this season, NU hasn’t been particularly efficient with its scoring chances on the whole. The Cats ranked 84th in the country entering the week in points scored per trip inside the opponents’ 40-yard line.

But Saturday’s performance was a low point for NU. The Cats ended six drives inside the Golden Gophers’ 40-yard line, plus a seventh that stalled on Minnesota’s 43, with only 12 points to show from all the opportunities.

“We beat ourselves,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We had seams; we had plays that were there, and we had one-man breakdowns.”

NU found its biggest problems when the field got shorter, with an ineffective run game and poor pass protection killing once-promising drives before they reached the end zone. The Cats turned the ball over on downs three times in their seven drives that crossed midfield, including the aforementioned fourth-down miss when momentum seemed to be swinging NU’s way in the third quarter.

The season-long struggles of kicker Jack Mitchell added another degree of difficulty for the Cats. The senior missed a 43-yard field goal in the first quarter and never saw the field for another kick, limiting NU’s options in the red zone and forcing Fitzgerald to be aggressive, perhaps to a fault, on fourth downs.

“Points were at a premium,” Fitzgerald said. “But when you don’t execute, (it’s) kind of a moot point.”

As a whole, NU’s offense had a day to forget Saturday, surrendering seven sacks and losing two fumbles to converting on just 2-of-15 third down plays. But by coming away with nothing too often on the chances they did create, the Cats doomed themselves to a defeat in Minneapolis.

After the game, Fitzgerald blamed coaching for the miscues in Minnesota’s half of the field, but senior receiver Andrew Scanlan disagreed.

“Coach (Fitzgerald) is going to come in here and say they have to coach (the players) better, but at the end of the day, we’re the ones on the field,” Scanlan said. “We’re the ones that have to execute, and we just didn’t get it done.”

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Twitter: @maxschuman28

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