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Minnesota Football vs Northwestern: The Ugly

The Michigan game felt like rock bottom. It wasn’t.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Northwestern Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

For Jerry Kill, it was a 58-0 loss at Michigan in his first season at Minnesota.

For P.J. Fleck, it appears to be a 39-0 loss at Northwestern in his first season, with a regular season finale against Wisconsin at home looming next week.

You hope there are better days ahead, but that doesn’t make a humiliating loss like the one the Gophers suffered on Saturday any easier to stomach. It was the program’s worst loss since that beatdown courtesy of the Wolverines on Oct. 1, 2011. And that was the first year of the post-Tim Brewster era. I certainly anticipated a step back this season despite nine wins a season ago, but I never expected Minnesota to get obliterated by Northwestern.

It was embarrassing, to say the least.

And it’s not difficult to diagnose where things went wrong: Everywhere.

Zero touchdowns. In their last two visits to Evanston combined, the Gophers have been outscored 66-0. That’s not good.

One third down conversion. The Gopher offense was 1-for-11 on third down.

Two pass completions. Demry Croft completed two passes on the Gophers’ first two offensive plays of the game. It was a good start. Over their next 46 offensive plays, Croft would not complete another pass, and his receivers would drop six of his passes. He also threw three interceptions and finished 2-of-11 for 43 passing yards.

Five turnovers. Let’s break it down with bullet points.

  • It started with a Kobe McCary fumble at the Minnesota 36-yard line in the second quarter. The Wildcats scored eight plays later to extend their lead to 13-0.
  • Just one offensive possession later, Croft forced a throw at the Gophers’ 15-yard line and the Wildcats’ Montre Hartage jumped the route for an interception. Northwestern scored two plays later to make their lead 20-0.
  • In the third quarter, Rashad Still ran one route and Croft threw to another for an interception returned to the Minnesota 27-yard line. The Wildcats scored three plays later and led 32-0.
  • On the Gophers’ next offensive possession, Croft ended their best drive of the game with a pass to Phillip Howard at the goal line, but (of course) it bounced off his chest and into the open arms of a Northwestern defender (of course).
  • The Minnesota defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, but on the Gophers’ very next offensive play, Rodney Smith fumbled at the Minnesota 24-yard line. The Wildcats scored on the next play, leading to a final score of 39-0.

Six sacks allowed. The Wildcats’ defensive front imposed their will against the Gophers’ offensive line (which is now on life support after multiple injuries), tallying six sacks and 11 tackles for loss, but Croft also held on to the ball too long at times. The decisive decision-making we saw against Nebraska was nowhere to be found.

277 rushing yards. To beat Northwestern, the Gophers needed to stop the run. They didn’t. Wildcat running back Justin Jackson rushed for 166 yards on 31 carries. The Wildcats had nearly 100 rushing yards after the first quarter, so I guess 177 rushing yards over the next three quarters was an improvement? Minnesota even allowed senior walk-on Corey Acker to go untouched for 24 yards on his first and only carry of the season, for the first touchdown of his college career. Good for him. Bad for the Gophers.

I’d get into the issues Ryan Santoso had punting the ball, but his struggles with the wind paled in the comparison to the struggles of his teammates.

I don’t think there was a single positive from the game, aside from another gutsy effort from Rodney Smith. I’m not sure this team deserves him. I’m disappointed he has spent much of his college career taking a beating behind a patchwork offensive line.

I think that about covers it. Mercifully, the season is almost over. Then we can begin the offseason process of convincing ourselves that next year won’t be as bad.