Football: Northwestern’s hopes of getting back on track stifled by Minnesota in 41-14 loss


Joanne Haner/The Daily Northwestern

Malik Washington runs with the football. Washington’s fumble was recovered for the first touchdown in a 41-14 win by Minnesota.

Lawrence Price, Assistant Sports Editor


After struggling in the second half against Michigan last weekend, Northwestern continued its difficulties in 60 minutes versus Minnesota on Halloween weekend.

A week following a 33-7 loss to the Wolverines, the Cats’ (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) ‘spooky’ problems appeared once again. The result was a 41-14 loss to Minnesota (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten).

Much different than the Golden Gophers’ seven-minute field-goal drive to begin the game, NU handed the pigskin back 11 seconds later. After sophomore left guard Josh Priebe’s false start on first down, junior wide receiver Malik Washington reeled in a five-yard reception, but fumbled the ball. It was then picked up by Minnesota cornerback Justin Walley, who ran untouched into the end zone to make the score 10-0.

“It’s tough to overcome,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Their defense has been pretty stout all year and we have great respect for the way that they played. They were as advertised today, so credit to them, but you just got to respond.”

The Golden Gophers continued to apply pressure on both sides of the ball, adding another field goal before the end of a first quarter in which they limited the Cats to 38 total yards.

However, NU eventually responded thanks to sophomore running back and Minnesota native Evan Hull.

Finding a hole in the defense, the tailback began the drive with a 30-yard run to move the Cats across midfield. Nearly four minutes later, Hull capped the possession off with a six-yard touchdown reception to put Northwestern on the board.

NU mainly stuck with Hull as the main rusher all game, but didn’t do the same at quarterback. Entering the red zone during the scoring drive, the team switched from sophomore quarterback Ryan Hilinski to senior Andrew Marty. Appearing for the first time since his injury against Duke, Marty picked up where he left off, finding Hull on the scoring play.

“I had so much support,” Marty said. “I am just proud of the way that, collectively, we got back on the field and going forward, just building on the things we did well today.”

The Golden Gophers quickly quieted the NU crowd and stifled the team’s momentum on its next drive, punching it into the end zone on another seven-minute possession. The Wildcats snatched the energy back, however, with less than a minute left in the first half thanks to a tipped pass by sophomore safety Coco Azema that resulted in an interception by sophomore safety Brandon Joseph.

Coming out of halftime, NU showed potential of decreasing the deficit once again. Consisting of a 14-yard pass to Washington and a third-and-16 connection to senior wide receiver JJ Jefferson later in the drive, Marty and the Cats were flowing. But Marty’s pass sailed over Washington’s head on a fourth-and-three.

“I was trying to make a play and I think I should have run for the first down instead of throwing a touchdown,” Marty said. “Building upon certain experiences that happened today is going to allow us to win games moving forward.”

After the turnover, Minnesota would reach the back of the end zone three more times before the final whistle. The Cats, on the other hand, would not cross the pylon until three minutes left in the contest.

Alongside the Golden Gophers three touchdowns in the second half, NU could not stop their run-heavy offense for most of the game. By the end of the contest, Minnesota put points on the board six out of its eight opportunities, ran for 308 yards and had possession for more than 40 minutes.

Fitzgerald said the Cats played “right into (Minnesota’s) hands” after leaving their defense on the field for long periods of the time.

“We got to make the most of every drive,” Hull said. “As an offense, it just makes those drives that you get a lot more important because we know we might not get as many drives, as many opportunities.”

Picking up their fifth loss of the season and second straight of 25 points or more, the Cats have tasks on both sides of the ball to refine. Graduate linebacker Chris Bergin expressed his frustration after the defense allowed 442 total yards, stating they did not physically execute and play up to their standard.

NU is still in the hunt for bowl eligibility. But with Saturday’s loss, the team must likely win at least three of its last four battles to head to the postseason.

“I hope for the seniors, for this program, for the coaches, everyone in this program will fight and claw to do anything they can to help us get three more wins,” Bergin said.

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