Rapid Recap: Minnesota 41, Northwestern 14


Kelsey Carroll/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern linebackers Bryce Gallagher and Chris Bergin attempt to tackle Minnesota running back Mar’Keise Irving. The Golden Gophers handed the Wildcats their fourth Big Ten loss of the season on Saturday.

Drew Schott, Gameday Editor


In November 2019, then-No. 8 Minnesota came to Ryan Field and defeated a struggling Northwestern squad that played two quarterbacks.

Today, a similar sequence of events occurred.

Minnesota (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten) handed the Wildcats (3-5, 1-4) their second consecutive conference loss in a 41-13 win behind 308 yards on the ground and a defense that allowed less than five yards per play. Throughout the game, NU failed to get the Golden Gophers’ offense off the field and the Cats’ own offensive struggles led to senior quarterback Andrew Marty replacing sophomore signal caller Ryan Hilinski.

The Cats deferred the coin toss, giving the Golden Gophers the chance to strike first, which they did. Behind a balanced attack through the air and on the ground, as well as 13 extra yards from a roughing-the-passer penalty, Minnesota took a 3-0 lead after a 26-yard field goal from kicker Matthew Trickett. 

NU’s opening drive ended up lasting shorter than expected. Junior wide receiver Malik Washington fumbled after reeling in a pass from Hilinski and the ball was scooped up by Golden Gophers cornerback Justin Walley for a 20-yard touchdown. 

A three-and-out from the Cats allowed Minnesota to take nearly seven minutes off the clock and add another field goal from Trickett, this one from 30 yards out. Nearing the end of the first quarter, the Golden Gophers outgained NU 117-1 in yardage. 

That was, until Hull injected life into the Cats’ offense. The running back’s 30-yard run sparked a long touchdown drive culminating in a six-yard screen pass from Marty to Hull. Marty, who was injured against Duke, came in for Hilinski early in the second quarter. 

Minnesota responded with a three-yard touchdown run from running back Mar’Keise Irving, extending its lead to 20-7. 

The Cats went back to Hilinski to start their next possession. Each of his three throws fell incomplete, forcing NU’s second punt of the game. 

The Golden Gophers marched down the field in just over four minutes and it looked like they would extend their lead to three scores. However, sophomore safety Brandon Joseph had other plans. 

As Morgan’s pass was tipped and flew towards the end zone, Joseph dove forward through the air, reaching out his arms and reeling in the ball before falling to the Ryan Field turf. The stop was the first of Minnesota’s drives to result in no points and left NU’s halftime deficit at 13. 

Marty opened the second half with a 14-yard pass to Washington. A few plays later, a QB sneak gave the Cats a new set of downs. Leading the Cats across midfield, he added 27 yards through the air. However, his throw on fourth down sailed out of bounds. 

But NU’s defense prevented any damage after the turnover on downs, forcing the Golden Gophers’ first punt of the game. 

However, after the Cats failed to move the chains and punted, Minnesota drove 71 yards in six minutes and 21 seconds, scoring a touchdown on an 18-yard quarterback keeper from Morgan. The Golden Gophers ran on 10 of the drive’s 11 plays and put the game out of reach for NU.

Irving added a 41-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to increase Minnesota’s lead to 27. Marty finished the game under center for the Cats and threw a late score to senior wide receiver Berkeley Holman. The Golden Gophers responded with a 24-yard touchdown run from Derik LeCaptain.


1. The Northwestern quarterback competition is back on 

On Sept. 18 in Durham, N.C., Hilinski relieved Marty after the senior went down with an injury against Duke. For the last four games, Hilinski moved into the starting role and did so again today against the Golden Gophers. However, he completed just one pass for five yards (that was fumbled) on six attempts. On one drive, he misfired on three consecutive passes. As a result, Fitzgerald made a change. While Marty’s first drive resulted in NU’s only touchdown of the day, his entrance into the game represents a renewed search for a starting quarterback with just four games remaining in the 2021 season. Marty showcased his dual threat ability by throwing for 93 yards and running for 28. However, he was able to lead the Cats to points on only one drive and misfired a throw on a fourth down conversion. In 2019 against Minnesota, Marty replaced Hunter Johnson and eventually started the season finale against Illinois. Two years later, the question marks about NU’s quarterback position are back.

2. Wildcats struggle to get Minnesota’s rushing attack off the field

The Golden Gophers’ 308 yards on the ground was largely in part due to their 40 minutes and four seconds of possession time. Minnesota ran eight drives and scored points on six of them. The Cats have struggled to stop the ground game throughout the season and today’s performance represented difficulty against one of the Big Ten’s best rush units. Even though running back Bryce Williams left early with an injury, Irving rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns and running back Ky Thomas racked up 106 yards. Morgan found success with his feet as well and opened up the Golden Gophers’ offense with well timed passing plays for large yardage amounts. NU has a short timeframe to improve, since the conference’s second-best rushing corps, Wisconsin, is up in two weeks at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

3. The path to success in the West only gets more difficult 

Minnesota’s win keeps it in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West, a division that the Cats are so far winless in. NU faces Iowa next week, who fell to Wisconsin 27-7 and suffered its second loss of the season. The Badgers are up soon, as well as Purdue, who Wisconsin beat 31-13. Outside of Illinois, all of the Cats’ remaining games are against opponents .500 or better, representing a difficult slate in their chase for bowl eligibility.

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