Gophers to play Northwestern in final home game

Minnnesota lost to the Wildcats 27-0 last year

Gophers defensive back Ray Buford tackles Cornhuskers tight end Cethan Carter at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

Meagan Lynch

Gophers defensive back Ray Buford tackles Cornhuskers tight end Cethan Carter at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

by Mike Hendrickson

Minnesota’s loss against No. 19 Nebraska wasn’t just a tough defeat on the road.

It eliminated almost all hope of the Gophers winning the Big Ten West.

But the team still has something to play for. With a win against Northwestern Saturday, the Gophers would win eight games for the third time in four seasons.

The game against the Wildcats will be the last home game for Minnesota this season and the last time at TCF Bank Stadium for the small group of seniors.

“Sometimes you lose sight of it with some of the things that go on and having a tough loss last weekend,” said redshirt senior quarterback Mitch Leidner. “But at the same time when you go back and reflect it’s pretty remarkable what we’ve been able to do as a senior class. We are definitely not finished yet and I think everyone understands that.”

The Gophers have 13 seniors on their team this year, the third smallest group in the FBS.

However, nine of those players have started nearly every game they have played in.

Leidner, right tackle Jonah Pirsig, safety Damarius Travis, defensive linemen Scott and Hank Ekpe, cornerback Jalen Myrick and wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky have all played in over 40 games over their careers.

Travis leads the pack with 50 games, including 20 starts.

“It’s been very special, a very good role for me,” Travis said. “I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here, through just this coaching staff and just the state of Minnesota.”

Head coach Tracy Claeys compared this year’s group of seniors to the graduating class from last season.

Both groups came to Minnesota when the team hadn’t been above .500 since 2008.

Claeys pointed to a statistic about this year’s senior class winning 29 games — the most by a class since 2006.

“When they got here, everything wasn’t all rosy and going the right direction, and the culture had to change, and they were a big part of that,” Claeys said. “They’ve obviously had a good run here and done some good things, and so, hopefully we can close it out.”

Northwestern won’t be the easiest team for Minnesota to get a home win against. Last season, the Wildcats defeated the Gophers 27-0.

It was the first time Minnesota had been shut out since 2011.

Leidner said Nebraska and Northwestern are similar teams, but the Wildcats bring more pressure.

“They play good and sound defense. They will be in the right spots at the right times,” Leidner said. “It’s a matter of receivers having a win and having enough time to throw the football and feel confident with our gameplay that we have so far.”

The Gophers will end their regular season with a game at No. 6 Wisconsin. Minnesota already clinched bowl-eligibility with a win at Illinois in October.

For redshirt senior linebacker Nick Rallis, the game against Northwestern is still important.

“I don’t know if it’s hit me yet. It probably will on game day,” Rallis said. “I’m just kind of focusing on preparing for Northwestern, because if you don’t go out with a win, you know it’s not going to be a great memory.”


-Offensive lineman Jared Weyler is out with torn triceps, Claeys said on KFAN 100.3 FM Tuesday. Weyler has started eight games and played in all 10 this season.

-Leidner has yet to throw a touchdown against an FBS team at home this season. The Gophers still average 34 points a game at home, up 11.4 from last year.

-The University of Minnesota announced Tuesday that its NCAA Graduation Success Rate is at 90 percent, a two-percent increase from last year. In 2005, the rate was 67 percent.