So how did the Gophers fare against the champs of the Big Ten West?
Blake Cashman. It was the senior linebacker’s final home game and he made the most of it, breaking a TCF Bank Stadium record with 20 tackles and a sack of Wildcat quarterback Clayton Thorson on fourth down in the fourth quarter. He left it all out on the field and will be sorely missed, whether his last game comes next week or in a bowl game next month.
Third down defense. Interim defensive coordinator Joe Rossi continues to work his magic on third down, after holding Purdue to 0-for-12 on third downs a week ago. Northwestern was 4-for-13 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth downs.
Tyler Johnson. The junior wide receiver needed just 52 yards to become the fifth player in school history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a single season. Johnson was able to cross the century mark before halftime, recording five receptions for 52 yards in the first half. He finished the game with eight receptions for 88 receiving yards and one touchdown. Johnson is also only the fourth player in school history to record 10 touchdowns in a season, and he currently ranks third all-time for receptions in a single season.
Mohamed Ibrahim. I continue to be impressed with the Gophers’ redshirt freshman running back. I don’t know what to expect from Rodney Smith or Shannon Brooks next season, but I feel good about the future with at least Ibrahim in the backfield. His vision is improving every week and he has shown to be a tough runner, grinding out 98 rushing yards on 20 carries, with one touchdown. Despite missing three games, Ibrahim’s season rushing total sits at 815 yards.
Rashod Bateman. Head coach P.J. Fleck has talked frequently about the “freshman wall,” or the point in the season when a true freshman starts to struggle when faced adversity. I think we may have reached that point with Bateman, who has proven to be one of the most exciting players on offense for Minnesota, but has had trouble hauling in passes in the cold weather of late. Fleck did reveal during his postgame press conference that Bateman was battling the flu leading up to and during the game, so I suppose that warrants cutting him some slack.
Emmit Carpenter. The senior kicker missed his fourth field goal attempt of the season.
Tanner Morgan. It was a brutal game for the redshirt freshman quarterback. His accuracy was all over the place, to the point where I wondered if he was even 100 percent. He threw two interceptions on the Gophers’ second and third possessions of the game and nearly fumbled a snap at the goal line before halftime, which would have cost Minnesota a much-needed touchdown. Then, with the Gophers trailing 21-7 in the fourth quarter, he was strip sacked on his blind side, setting up a Northwestern field goal. The Wildcats scored 10 points off his turnovers alone, which is fun when you consider the margin of defeat was 10 points.
Finishing drives. Minnesota made six trips into Northwestern territory on offense. This is how each of those drives ended:
- 2 touchdowns
- 1 interception
- 1 missed field goal
- 2 failed third down conversions
You’re not going to win a lot of games with that kind of execution.
Joe Rossi’s two-minute defense. I’m not sure if Rossi was asleep at the wheel or what, but Northwestern managed to steal all momentum from the Gophers’ game-tying touchdown before halftime by going 55 yards in three plays to take back the lead with a minute left in the first half. The Minnesota defense looked lost, allowing back-to-back receptions of 23 and 19 yards before rolling out the welcome mat for Clayton Thorson to go 13 yards untouched into the end zone.