Rapid Recap: Minnesota 31, Northwestern 3


Angeli Mittal/Daily Northwestern

Junior wide receiver Bryce Kirtz gets up after reception. Even though the wideout room finished with 206 yards, it wasn’t to get them the victory against Minnesota two weeks later, losing 31-3.

Lawrence Price, Audio Editor

MINNEAPOLIS – After a number of Minnesota defenders warmed up in shorts, no shirt and a black ski mask to block out the below-30 degree weather, one thing was for sure — they were ready for the midday contest. Yet, with Northwestern’s entire team flexing a similar absence of attire during their pregame, the Cats looked more than ready as well.

However, the Golden Gophers (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) red zone stop followed by a run-heavy touchdown drive midway through the first quarter solidified the former thought, as the Cats (1-9, 1-6 Big Ten) dropped the contest 31-3 — their lowest outpoint of the season.

And that was the case for the entire contest — lackluster defense and a powerless offense — a reoccurring storyline throughout the disappointing season.

With two games left on Cats’ 2022 slate, a 28-point defeat was exactly what NU didn’t need to happen in hopes of ending the season on a high note.

Here’s five takeaways from the mediocre play by the Cats against the Golden Gophers:


1. Northwestern’s run defense proves to be unreliable….again
Without looking at the halftime stat sheet, there was one clear difference in the two groups’ play — the run game. And after looking at the numbers, this held true, as Minnesota ran all over NU’s defense with 170 rushing yards, in comparison to the Cats’ six yards. Yes, you read that right, six.

Even with these numbers, NU knew this was a point of emphasis they needed to stop in Minnesota’s offensive game. The Golden Gophers rank second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, while giving up the second-least sacks in the conference as well. The Cats, on the other hand, have given up the most rushing yards per game in the Big Ten this season.

NU’s inability to stop Minnesota’s rushing attack emphasizes a nightmare the Cats have faced throughout the season, giving up over 170 yards on the ground in all but two contests. Unsurprisingly, today was no different.

2. Junior linebacker Bryce Gallagher’s absence; sophomore linebacker Mac Uihlein’s ejection allow Minnesota to dominate (even more)
With junior linebacker Bryce Gallagher in street clothes as his defensive teammates warmed up before the contest, NU was faced with another roadblock, knowing their middle-of-the-defensive leader and captain would be out due to injury.

However, sophomore linebacker Mac Uihlein’s ejection for targeting, the team’s leading tackler at the time, in the second quarter, left juniors Xander Mueller and Greyson Metz to man the middle of the field for the majority of the contest. This proved to be an issue for the defense, allowing multiple holes, openings, and broken tackles for the Golden Gophers.

Although not much of a passing problem, as Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis finished with only 64 passing yards, it was still huge on the ground. As a result, Minnesota averaged nearly six yards every run, and running back Mohamed Ibrahim to have a day. The Minnesota running back tied the program’s single-season rushing touchdown record with 18.

By the end of the contest, Ibrahim finished with three touchdowns and 178 rushing yards out of the team’s overall 302 yards on the ground.

3. Northwestern offense stalls out…..again
After a disappointing offensive performance versus Iowa, Evan Hull’s first quarter touchdown versus No. 2 Ohio State a week later, a top defensive unit in the country, could have made one think that the Cats finally turned things around on offense.

Yet, by accumulating only three points the entire game against a weaker defense than the past two opponents in Minnesota, it felt like coach Mike Bajakian’s offense was back at square one. The offense converted one third down the entire game, turning the ball over twice on fourth down and only making it into the redzone twice.

And even with these devastating numbers, on top of the score, this has been a reality for NU most of the season, putting up seven or less points in four contests, and no more than 14 points in the last seven games. No matter the opponent, it will always be difficult to win a game like this.

4. Offensive line struggles continue
As the final clock sounded, another major area of dissatisfaction was NU’s 56 total rushing yards. Junior running back Evan Hull’s feet came behind 54 of them, the seventh time the captain hasn’t hit the 100 rushing mark in a season, and fifth with less than 100 all-purpose yards as well.

With such a dynamic weapon like Hull on offense, who averaged over 100 all-purpose yards per game last season, it brings into question the protection he has been given from the offensive line. Although this group has faced multiple injuries throughout the season, it doesn’t disqualify them from criticism, as their output affects Hull’s input directly.

Seeing Minnesota’s offensive line create many opportunities for the Golden Gophers’ runners consistently shines light of what-could-have-been for Hull, and an offense that lives and dies by his success.

5. With Sullivan and Hilinski injured, which quarterback will Northwestern turn to?
With quarterbacks sophomore Brendan Sullivan and junior Ryan Hilinski going down with injuries in the contest, it allowed junior Carl Richardson and sophomore Cole Freeman to see the field, and possibly more next week.

Now, with two games left in their 2022 campaign and an unsure timetable of return for the two, it begs the question of whether Richardson will be under center for the last two contests. Or, will NU allow multiple players to get a chance to shine.

Outside of those four, the Cats have one other quarterback on the roster that could possibly see the field in first-year Jack Lausch. And knowing that both Sullivan and Hilinski will have first dibs at the position when they return, there doesn’t seem to be any harm in letting each get some reps.

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