Northwestern finds offense late to beat Gophers 24-14
If the Gophers want to go to a bowl game, they have one more chance to make it happen next week at Wisconsin.
Thats because they couldnt get their sixth win of the season on Saturday, falling 24-14 to Northwestern in the home finale at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Gophers (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) were done in by missed opportunities and turnovers, giving the ball up on two interceptions and a fumble, along with being stopped on downs on a key point in the first half. Meanwhile, Big Ten West Division champion Northwestern (7-4, 7-1) rode a solid defensive effort to its eighth consecutive conference road win.
The Wildcats held the Gophers to 306 yards and stopped them three times in fourth-down situations. Five times the Gophers drove inside the Northwestern 40-yard line, but they had only two touchdowns to show for it.
Tyler Johnson caught eight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown for the Gophers, and Mohamed Ibrahim rushed 20 times for 98 yards and a TD for the Gophers. Tanner Morgan completed 19 of 32 passes for 197 yards and a TD but threw two interceptions.
Isaiah Bowser rushed 29 times for 85 yards and two TDs for the Wildcats. Clayton Thorson was 15-for-21 for 230 yards and had a 13-yard touchdown run.
For the second consecutive game, the Gophers defense showed improvement. Led by senior linebacker Blake Cashmans 20 tackles, the Gophers kept Northwestern within striking distance until early in the fourth quarter.
The game was tight early on, with both defenses playing well.
Cashmans third-down tackle of wide receiver Flynn Nagel forced the Wildcats to punt on their first possession, and Demetrius Douglas returned it 19 yards to the Minnesota 43. The Gophers drove to the Northwesterns 27, but Morgans pass intended for Rashod Bateman was tipped, and Nate Hall made a diving interception at the 16.
Northwestern drove to the Minnesota 47, but back-to-back stops of Bowser for no gain forced the Wildcats to punt.
Hall got his second interception of the day when Morgan underthrew Johnson, giving the Wildcats the ball at the Minnesota 45.
This time, the Wildcats cashed in on Bowsers 2-yard TD run for a 7-0 lead with 2:20 left in the first quarter. The score was set up by a 22-yard pass from Thorson to Trey Pugh to the 11, followed by a pass interference penalty on Kamal Martin that moved the ball to the 2.
After going three-and-out after Bowsers TD, the Gophers got 58-yard punt from Jacob Herbers that pinned the Wildcats at their 4. Minnesotas defense forced a three-and-out, and the Gophers took over at the Wildcats 49.
Morgans 14-yard pass to Johnson moved it to the 35, and Ibrahims 4-yard gain made it fourth-and-1. The Gophers went for it, but Seth Green was stuffed by Hall for no gain, though it appeared the pile still was moving when the referee whistled the play dead.
Northwestern capitalized on the turnover on downs by driving to the Gophers 24. Facing fourth-and-6 and with their regular kicker, Charlie Kuhbander, out because of injury, the Wildcats went for it. But Cashman sacked Thorson for a 14-yard loss, ending the threat. The sack was Cashmans ninth tackle of the game.
The Gophers responded by driving 62 yards in 11 plays to tie the score 7-7 on Ibrahims 1-yard TD run with 2:18 left in the second quarter. Keys on the drive were Ibrahims 8-yard gain on third-and-3 from the 43 and his 29-yard run up the middle to the Wildcats 2.
Northwestern quickly made it 13-7 with 1:12 left in the half on Thorsons 13-yard TD run on an option keeper. A 39-yard kickoff return by Kyric McGowan gave the Wildcats the ball at their 45. Thorson found Bennett Skowronek for a 23-yard gain to the Minnesota 32, then Ramaid Chiaokhlao-Bowman for 19 yards to the 13. Drew Luckenbaughs extra point was wide right.
On its opening possession of the third quarter, the Wildcats drove to the Minnesota 34, but Thorsons fourth-down pass was broken up by Gophers defensive back Coney Durr.
The Gophers responded by driving to the Northwestern 19, but they came up empty. On third-and-1, Ibrahim was dropped for a 1-yard loss, and Emmit Carpenters 38-yard field-goal attempt was wide right.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Gophers had Northwestern pinned at its 10 and facing third-and-8. But Thorson found Riley Lees for a 17-yard gain. That proved to be huge, because three plays later, Thorson hit JJ Jefferson for a 68-yard gain to the Minnesota 2. Bowser scored on a dive, and Thorson hit Cameron Green for the two-point conversion, pushing the lead to 21-7 with 11:07 left.
The Wildcats quickly made it 24-7. Defensive end Joe Gaziano strip-sacked Morgan and returned the fumble to the Gophers 17. The drive stalled, but Jake Collins kicked a 29-yard field goal with 7:49 left.
The Gophers appeared to have a 10-yard TD pass from Morgan to Johnson on their next series, but the play was wiped out by illegal hands to the face penalty on Mohamed Ibrahim. A targeting call and ejection of Hall bought the ball to the 6, and Morgan hit Johnson for a 6-yard TD pass with 4:32 left. That cut the lead to 24-14.
The Gophers opted not to try an onside kick but used their three timeouts while forcing a three-and-out. They got the ball back a their 35 with 4:01 left, but Morgan was sacked for a 5-yard loss on fourth-and-3.