Football live blog: Minnesota vs. Northwestern

by Austin Cumblad

 5 plays, 58 yards, 7 points.  The Gophers are off and rolling early with a flawless scoring drive capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run from Duane Bennett.  The sequence of plays: rush, rush, pass, pass, rush.  Let’s see if Minnesota sustains this early offensive momentum.

Minnesota is opting for speed on defense with a modified 3-4 set on most plays, but Northwestern’s no-huddle offense led by Kafka is picking the Gophers apart. The Wildcats were 5-for-5 on third downs until a holding penalty on third-and-1 at the Minnesota 6-yard line stalled a 19-play, 77-yard drive and Northwestern settled for a field goal. 7-3 Gophers with 4:03 remaining in the first quarter. MarQueis Gray is in the building. He still has yet to attempt a pass, but Gray took the snap two plays in a row, running for 18 yards on a play-action quarterback draw. One of the stranger sequences I’ve witnessed in football. Eric Decker appeared to make a remarkable 22-yard catch on the sideline and it was called as such, even though the ball slipped out after he had bounced on the ground a few times. The play was reviewed and confirmed, but here’s where it gets interesting. The play was FURTHER reviewed and then reversed. Apparently the replay official thought he was confirming that the play was an INCOMPLETE, not a complete. The confusion was sorted out, it left Minnesota with a fourth-and-3 on Northwestern’s 34-yard line, and Adam Weber threw an interception on the conversion attempt. The failed fourth down certainly didn’t deflate the offense, however. After a Wildcats three-and-out, the Gophers marched 50 yards in four plays and Bennett pounded in a 3-yard touchdown, his second of the day, for a 14-3 Minnesota lead with just over 7 and a half minutes left in the half. The Gophers are loving the third quarter this season, and this one is no exception. After forcing a quick three-and-out, Minnesota plodded its way down the field, relying mostly on Duane Bennett’s legs until Weber found Decker for a 16-yard touchdown that capped of a 12-play, 78 yard drive that ate up 6:51. 21-10 Gophers. Northwestern responded immediately with a 10-play, 75 yard scoring drive to cut Minnesota’s lead back to four. The Gophers continue to struggle to stop the Wildcats on third down, or, well, just stop the Wildcats in general. This game would likely be tied if not for that untimely Northwestern holding penalty. Big, big, big interception by Kim Royston on Minnesota’s own 2-yard line when it appeared Kafka was about to drive the Wildcats down for another score – if not a touchdown at least three points. Instead, the Gophers just ran the clock out and go into halftime leading 14-10. Minnesota and Northwestern exchanged scoring drives to start the second half, the Gophers primarily on the ground and the Wildcats again behind Kafka’s accurate and efficient arm. Minnesota’s drive was 12 plays, 78 yards in 6:51 capped by a 16-yard pass from Weber to Decker. Northwestern’s: 9 plays, 79 yards in 2:33 with a 24-yard pass from Kafka to Andrew Brewer. We may have just witnessed a seismic momentum shift. On their next offensive possession, the Gophers inexplicably abandoned the run game that had moved them down the field for a touchdown just minutes earlier. They held the ball for all of 26 seconds and after three Weber incompletions, punted the ball back to Northwestern, which proceeded to drive 79 yards in 11 plays for the go-ahead score. Kafka lofted a fourth-and-2 pass to Brendan Mitchell in the corner of the end zone, who bobbled it but hauled the ball in to put the Wildcats up 24-21. Well, the brain-fart induced abandonment of the run game only lasted one drive, and Minnesota answered Northwestern’s touchdown with one of its own just 6:31 and 18 plays later. The Gophers marched 83 yards and Bennett punched in his third touchdown of the day from 4 yards out. Brandon Green, who had yet to record a catch, snagged two important passes to sustain the drive, a 27-yarder on third-and-7 and a 10-yarder on third-and-8. At the risk of losing traffic on this blog, I’ll say this. If you can get to a TV right now, do so. Northwestern just took over on its own 10 with two and a half minutes remaining trailing by 4. This will be an exciting last couple of minutes. And there’s the big turnover Minnesota needed to seal this game. Forget that Kafka put up over 309 yards passing, tossed a pair of touchdowns and generally picked apart the Gophers’ defense. His day will be remembered for the fumble on his own 3-yard line that was forced and recovered by Cedric McKinley. Three plays later, Weber threw a fade to Decker’s back shoulder to put this one on ice. 35-24 Minnesota now with 1:35 remaining.