This afternoon's game was everything most of us were expecting. A couple evenly matched teams with good defenses and improving offenses. In the end it was the Gophers who made enough plays to come away with the 17-24 win over Northwestern, improving to 2-0 in the Big Ten and 5-1 overall.
Minnesota followed their script to perfection. Get an early lead, win the field position battle, establish a physical ground game and do enough of the little things to win the game. The little things that made the difference today belonged to the special teams. Consistently putting Northwestern inside or near their own 20 was a big deal today. Northwestern started 6 drives with 80 or more yards in front of them. The Gophers on the other hand didn't start a drive inside their own 25 until the third quarter and only twice throughout the game.
And of course the game-changing play of the day belonged to Jalen Myrick who answered a third quarter Northwestern game-tying touchdown with a 100 yard kickoff return for the game-winning score. He outran the Northwestern coverage unit but credit to the other 10 Gophers on the field who opened up a wide lane for Myrick to run through, untouched to the end zone.
The Gophers got on the board first with a touchdown on their second drive of the day. Mitch Leidner converted three third downs on this drive. Converting 3rd and 7, then 3rd and 8 with passes and then 3rd and goal from the 1 he ran the ball in for the game's opening score.
Northwestern answered on their following drive going 71 yards on 16 plays, eating up over 7 minutes of clock. Eventually Trevor Siemian hit Justin Jackson for the tying touchdown.
Minnesota quickly answered on their next drive. It may have appeared that this was going to be a high scoring affair. The Gophers went 75 yards on just six plays with the team's longest play from scrimmage of the season being the key play of the drive. Mitch Leidner found his favorite target, Maxx Williams, for 52 yards and 15 more for a personal foul penalty on the play. Two plays later Leidner snuck another one into the end zone putting Minnesota back on top.
The Wildcats had one more lengthy and time-consuming drive before half. This one went 73 yards and took 16 plays but the Gophers held tough at the 3 forcing a field goal as the half ended. The Gophers lead 10-14 and the little nugget that since coming to Minnesota Kill has never lost when leading at halftime became a popular footnote.
It held true again today. A 0-0 third quarter gave way to a riveting fourth. The Gophers stalled early in the 4th and settled for a FG to give them a touchdown lead. Northwester threatened a couple of times but finally Damarius Travis intercepted Siemian with 31 seconds left to seal the win.
Northwestern had 393 yards of total offense but they also ran 84 plays, 30 more than the Gophers ran. And in spite of that 30 play differential the time of possession was essentially even (3 min advantage for NU).
Another solid game for the defense led by Damien Wilson's 15 tackles and Eric Murray who had seven tackles to go with his 3 pass break ups. Offensively Mitch Leidner also played very well completing 10/15 for 153 yards passing.
The win moved the Gophers to 2-0 in the Big Ten and 5-1 overall. Up next is Purdue at home on Saturday. An important week for the Gophers to keep their heads on straight, get themselves prepared for Purdue and move to 3-0.