Underdog Gophers de-claw Wildcat offense for first Big Ten win

The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers traveled to Evanston, Ill. To take on the Northwestern University Wildcats.  The media was focused on head coach Jerry Kill’s decision to take an open-ended leave of absence for medical reasons.

Acting head coach, and long-time Kill assistant Tracy Claeys, was confident that the contingency plan that has been in place all year would work and coach Kill’s absence would not affect the Gophers’ play.  That said, the indefinite leave of absence left the public perception that not all was well in Gopher camp.

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The Gophers received the opening kickoff and were able to do almost nothing on the opening drive of the game.  The Gophers combined for 13 yards of rushing in their opening drive and accumulated 10 yards of penalties on two penalties.  The first drive ended with a 38 yard punt by Peter Mortell.  The first five drives of the game fizzled out, ending in punts.

The first sustained drive of the game came when the Wildcats started their third possession of the game from their 28 yard line.  The Wildcats drove 72 yards on 21 yards passing and 56 yards rushing (including being set back five yards for a false start) to score on a three yard Stephen Buckley run.  With the extra point the Wildcats led 7-0.

The Gophers finally got their offense started with ten minutes left in the first half.  The Gophers drove 82 yards culminating in a 29 yard pass from Lakeville, Minn. Native Philip Nelson to Chaska, Minn. Native Derrick Engel.

The play of the game came in the third quarter when Gopher linebacker James Manuel intercepted Wildcat quarterback Trevor Siemian and ran the ball back for a 24 yard interception touchdown run.  Chris Hawthone of the Gophers added the extra point to bring the score to 14-7, Gophers on top. Hawthore would add three points to open the fourth quarter and put the Gophers up 17-7 with 14:55 left in the game.

The Wildcats would drive 57 yards down the field in an almost four-minute drive but would only come away with three points.  With a one-touchdown lead at 17-10, the Gophers would have their best drive of the day expending five and three-quarter minutes, going 54 yards on 11 plays to add three points to their total.  With five and a half minutes remaining in the game the Gophers extended the lead to ten points at 20-10.

Northwestern answered with their best drive of the day going 75 yards in just over three minutes to score a touchdown as Siemian hit receiver Tony Jones in the end zone on a ten yard touchdown pass.  The extra point was good bringing the Gopher lead to just three with over two minutes in the game, 20-17.

The Wildcats would attempt an onside kick off that did not go their way as the Gophers recovered the ball at the Northwestern 43 yard line and set out to run out the clock by relying on their bread and butter running game.  Running back David Cobb did not disappoint, rushing for 11 yards on the first rush of the drive and following it up with a five yard rush to bring the Gophers to the 27 yard line of the Wildcats.

The Wildcats expended their three time-outs on the next three running plays before succumbing to the Gopher’s vanilla offense.  After the second timeout, Gopher QB Philip Nelson secured the victory by scrambling for a seven yard first down, cementing the Gopher victory.

The buzz during the second half was that head coach Jerry Kill had made the trip to Illinois and had spoken with the team at halftime and was in the press box watching from on high as his Gophers’ defense secured the victory in the second half.

The Gophers have a 5-2 record on the year but have a 1-2 Big Ten record and needed the win to stay relevant in the ultra-competitive Big Ten Conference.  The Gophers will host the 5-1 (2-0 in Big Ten play) Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday October 26 at TCF Bank Stadium to try to bring their record to .500 in Big Ten action.

Stay tuned to The Minnesota Sports Report for news and photos from TCF Bank Stadium next week.

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