The 16th ranked Northwestern Wildcats were not friendly hosts today as they thoroughly dominated the Golden Gophers 0-27 in each team's Big Ten Opener.
A close game early with both teams managing decent drives on their respective opening possessions. The Gophers took the ball first, got into Northwestern territory but failed to convert a manageable third and three before having to punt. Northwestern took the ball, converted a couple long third downs en route to a field goal and a 0-3 lead. The rest of the first half saw these teams trading punts with both defenses winning until Miles Schuler returned a Peter Mortell punt 55 yards setting up the Wildcats with first and goal from the Gopher 5. On the very next play, Caleb Thorson ran it in for an NU 0-10 lead shortly before halftime.
No big deal right? The Gophers make some adjustments at halftime, the offense manages to cobble together a couple series that result in points and we are in this thing till the very end right? Nope. Northwestern controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, dominated the time of possession and the game en route to a 27-point shutout. Not much else to say about the game. It was completely controlled by the Wildcats, they won all three phases and for the entire second half the only thing left to see was if the Gophers would manage a point or not. Spoiler Alert: They did not.
What went wrong? Well, it is all the same things we have seen throughout the year at various times. Injuries and lack of depth has hurt the defense. The offensive line has been pretty bad. The quarterback was awful. The game-plan and plays-calling was uninspiring. Receivers were still unable to get any separation. And special teams, particularly punt coverage today, was a problem as well. Not much went right.
"We got a lot more problems than just the quarterback. I mean, everybody wants to blame the quarterback they need to blame me, I'm fine with that. The quarterback understands that he's going to get blamed but the bottom line is that we've got a lot of other issues that we need to solve on the offensive side of the ball."
Finally, in the fourth quarter, Jerry Kill benched Leidner and gave the final four series to the true freshman, Demry Croft. His first snap as a collegiate quarterback was an 11-yard scramble. He mixed in a few very nice throws with at least a couple that were bad and very nearly intercepted. The end result was no different. Northwestern blitzed him, the offensive line was unable to pick it up, the play-calling was ultra-vanilla and very few yards were gained.
It is hard to put much of the blame of this loss on the defense, they were not perfect but it is hard to pin more than 13 of the Cat's total points on them. One was a 5-yard field and the other was an offensive turnover. There should be a reasonable expectation of putting up at least couple touchdowns against most Big Ten defenses.
But hats off to Northwestern. As I said they dominated the line of scrimmage, their team was more prepared to play in all phases, they executed on third downs and were never really threatened. I am not sure how much of their great game was due to awful execution by the Gophers or maybe they are just really good. I think it is more the former but certainly somewhere in the middle.
The Gophers have a lot of questions to be answered, more than they began the season with. Up next is another road game. A trip to Purdue is looming and the Boilermakers should be feeling good about themselves when they watch the film from this afternoon.