Football: Bateman, Johnson torch Northwestern defense to tune of 4 receiving touchdowns


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Rashod Bateman catches a ball in the end zone for a touchdown. The receiver had three touchdowns against Northwestern.

Peter Warren, Print Managing Editor


Northwestern has faced a lot of ground-and-pound teams this season, and Minnesota’s offense is also based around establishing the run. The difference between the No. 10 Golden Gophers and the other 10 teams the Wildcats have faced this season is that Minnesota has arguably the best wide receiver duo in the country.

Sophomore Rashod Bateman and senior Tyler Johnson entered the game with 103 combined catches for 1845 yards and 16 touchdowns, and only continued their excellent seasons on Saturday.

The two were the best players on Ryan Field, as Bateman had seven catches for 78 yards and three touchdowns while Johnson had seven catches for 125 yards and a score.

“Rashod Bateman, I think is one of the best players in the country,” Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “In my opinion, I think he is the best receiver in the country. I think 1b could be Tyler Johnson. 1a, 1b, they’re together. However you want to put them together, they’re together.”

From the jump, Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan looked for his weapons on the outside. He was 4-for-4 on the first Golden Gophers possession, with Johnson picking up a 14-yard gain on the first play of the drive and Bateman leaping to snag a 19-yard touchdown pass to close the drive.

Bateman grabbed his second touchdown in the second quarter. On a first-and-goal from the NU 10, the sophomore ran a post corner route toward the west sideline. Morgan’s ball was beautifully placed as Bateman caught the pass and adroitly kept his right foot in bounds to put the Minnesota up 21-0.

“He looked like a ballerina,” Morgan said. “It was awesome for him to be able to show that and do that and stay in.”

Bateman scored his third touchdown in the third quarter, when Morgan lofted a toss into the back corner of the end zone that Bateman nabbed. Bateman went down with an injury later in the quarter, but it wasn’t a serious knock and he returned to the game in the fourth quarter. While Bateman was scoring touchdowns to start the game, Johnson caught the final Golden Gophers six-pointer of the contest in the fourth quarter.

Much of Minnesota’s pass game was based around RPOs and quick slants across the middle of the field, and the NU secondary struggled all day to cover it.

“They have a great attack with how they throw the ball off their run schemes,” senior defensive end Joe Gaziano said. “It’s tough to defend because it just sucks up the linebackers or forces the D-Line to play the run and doesn’t allow you to pass rush. It makes your secondary hesitant a little bit to play the run, and that opens up gaps.”

Junior safety Travis Whillock said the coaches had a good game plan to stop the the RPO-based attack, but the defense didn’t execute.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald said he wasn’t surprised by the offensive play calling, and noted he only saw two types of wide receiver routes ran by the Golden Gophers: slants and fades. Fitzgerald said the team practiced defending those plays all week, but that during the game, the defense got beat.

“They’ve played pretty much with the same guys all year and it showed,” Fitzgerald. “They have great timing, great rhythm.”

Morgan finished the game with 23 pass attempts, and only five of them weren’t in the direction of Johnson or Bateman. There was also only one catch made by someone without the No. 6 or No. 13 on their jersey.

Whillock gave the two receivers credit, highlighting their abilities to go make a play and ball skills as reasons for their success this season. But he also emphasized his and the defense’s inability to properly defend them.

“If you go back and watch the film, it wasn’t necessarily anything scheme wise or anything like that, it was just those one-on-one matchup,” Whillock said. “Unfortunately, myself, didn’t win a whole lot of those matchups today, and thats whats going to happen when you’re going against two good receivers. Credit them. But at the same time, we know — and I know — that we have to be way better.”

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