Gophers shut out against Wildcats

Northwestern held Minnesota’s offense to 173 total yards in Saturday’s contest.

Quarterback Demry Croft prepares to throw the ball at Ryan Field on Saturday afternoon where Minnesota fell to Northwestern 0-27.

Joe Sulik

Quarterback Demry Croft prepares to throw the ball at Ryan Field on Saturday afternoon where Minnesota fell to Northwestern 0-27.

Mike Hendrickson

Head coach Jerry Kill couldn’t think of a silver lining after Saturday’s game, as the Gophers opened up Big Ten play by getting shut out by No. 16 Northwestern in a 27-0 loss.
Minnesota’s offense put up only 173 total yards and failed to get past Northwestern’s 31-yard line at any point in the game.
 
“We’ve got a long season ahead of us,” Kill said. “That’s one Big Ten game … We got our butt kicked today. That’s what sums it up.”
 
The game went from bad to worse after quarterback Mitch Leidner fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter and the Wildcats returned for a touchdown to make the score 27-0. 
 
After that, Leidner was taken out of the game and was replaced by freshman Demry Croft, who saw the first snaps of his collegiate career.
 
While Leidner finished the game with only 72 yards on 21 attempts and an interception, Croft also had trouble moving the ball against Northwestern’s defense, finishing with 27 yards on 11 attempts.
 
“We got a lot more problems than just the quarterback,” Kill said. “Bottom line is we got a lot of other issues that we need to solve on the offensive side of the ball.”
 
Kill had no comment after the game on the quarterback situation going forward.
 
The running game, which was a bright spot for the Gophers last week, was not able to move the ball any better than the quarterbacks, as first-year running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks combined for 65 yards on 21 attempts.
 
The Gophers converted just four of 16 third downs and none of their four conversion attempts on fourth down.
 
“I feel like we couldn’t get into a rhythm,” senior wide receiver KJ Maye said. “We didn’t have rhythm going, so it’s hard to catch energy when you don’t have rhythm going. In and out, gain yards, lose yards — it’s a big cluster, so when we can’t get into a rhythm, that’s when it’s a lack of energy out there.”
 
At the end of the first half, the game was still in reach for the Gophers, as the score was 10-0. But then Northwestern went on a 19-play, 69-yard drive that lasted 8:47 and hit a short field goal to make the score 13-0 in the third quarter.
 
Minnesota responded with a six-play drive that resulted in their second turnover-on-downs in the game, and Northwestern then scored a touchdown on a one-yard run by redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson.
 
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” redshirt junior linebacker Jack Lynn said. “They were making plays when it counted.”
 
Thorson finished with 128 yards on 19 attempts with no touchdowns through the air but had 11 rushing attempts for 24 yards and two touchdowns.
 
His first touchdown run came on a five-yard run late in the second quarter after the Gophers allowed a 55-yard punt return that gave Northwestern the ball on Minnesota’s five-yard line.
 
“We’ve been pretty good in the kicking game all my years of coaching, but we didn’t get a very good punt,” Kill said. “We didn’t do some of the fundamental things you need to do, and they executed better than we did.”
 
Sophomore running back Justin Jackson had 120 yards on the ground for Northwestern on 20 attempts. 
 
It was Jackson’s fourth game of the year with 120 yards or more.
 
Besides the failed conversions and two turnovers for the offense, the Gophers defense finished with only one sack and failed to get a turnover for the third game in a row.
 
“As much as we can say, ‘Offense this, offense that,’ we got to help them out as much as we can to get a turnover and get them in good field position,” redshirt sophomore safety Adekunle Ayinde said. “It’s a team game; we all got to help each other out.”
 
Minnesota has now scored fewer than 20 points in three games this season.
 
“We got a group that has lost some confidence,” Kill said. “That’s our job to get going. I take full responsibility. I wish I could click my fingers and have that answer.”