MINNEAPOLIS -- Northwestern showed why they’re the Big Ten West champions on Saturday, Nov. 17, at a cold TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota followed the precedent it set during a season spent in or near the division basement.
The No. 22-ranked Wildcats scored 10 points off three Gophers turnovers and relied on its stingy rush defense to produce a 24-14 win.
After Northwestern beat Iowa last week to clinch the division with two games to play, questions arose about what kind of effort the Wildcats would bring to Minneapolis. They went three-point favorites to two-point underdogs to Minnesota during the week and were without three starting defensive backs.
But after Minnesota tied the game, 7-7, in the second quarter, Northwestern (7-4, 7-1) pounced with a quick-strike touchdown drive and never looked back.
Meanwhile, the Gophers (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) will now need a sixth win and bowl eligibility in the regular season finale against Wisconsin in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe next week.
Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan threw two interceptions in his first eight throws, both picked off by linebacker Nate Hall. Northwestern turned the second pick into a touchdown four plays later.
Set up by a 22-yard pass over Gophers safety Jacob Huff and 9-yard pass interference penalty on linebacker Kamal Martin, Wildcats running back Isaiah Bowser finished the drive off with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Morgan’s first interception didn’t end up costing Minnesota due to a third-down stop from defensive lineman Jamaal Teague and Sam Renner. Northwestern went three-and-out in their first drive, thanks to a tackle from Cashman, who finished with 20 tackles.
In the third quarter, Morgan was the victim of a strip sack given up by hurt left tackle Donnell Greene. It led to Northwestern staking a 24-7 lead.
In between, Bowser scored on a two-yard run after Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson connected on a 68-yard pass to JJ Jefferson.
Minnesota had four drives stall inside Northwestern’s 40-yard line — twice they were turnover on downs and once apiece were Morgan’s interception and Emmit Carpenter’s missed 38-yard field goal.
Morgan completed 19 of 32 passes for 197 yards against that shorthanded Wildcats secondary, adding a late touchdown pass to Tyler Johnson. Against Northwestern’s 36th-ranked rush defense, Minnesota averaged 3.1 yards per carry.