Hopes of a homecoming win intercepted by Northwestern

Northwestern's Brendan Smith is just out of reach of junior receiver Eric Decker, as Smith picked off an Adam Weber pass at the 48-yard line in the fourth quarter. Smith returned the interception for a touchdown with 12 seconds to go in the game, sealing the upset.

Jules Ameel

Northwestern’s Brendan Smith is just out of reach of junior receiver Eric Decker, as Smith picked off an Adam Weber pass at the 48-yard line in the fourth quarter. Smith returned the interception for a touchdown with 12 seconds to go in the game, sealing the upset.

Maybe it was the memory of losing to Northwestern in overtime last year . Maybe it was the fact that it was homecoming. Maybe it was because the Wildcats rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in passing defense . Whatever the reason, when Minnesota took the ball over on their own 14-yard line with 47 seconds left and one timeout Saturday, coach Tim Brewster decided to go for the improbable touchdown. Instead of running out the clock, which they could have done because Northwestern had just one timeout, the Gophers called four passing plays on the drive. On the fourth, with 26 seconds left, a pass into double coverage bounced off Eric Decker âÄôs hands, off a defenderâÄôs body and into the hands of Wildcats cornerback Brendan Smith , who ran 48 yards through the thick of MinnesotaâÄôs defense for a touchdown, as Northwestern stunned the No. 17 Gophers 24-17. âÄúWe were trying to go score,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúWeâÄôre going to take an aggressive nature to what we do, and thatâÄôs who I am. We were trying to go down the field and score. The play was there.âÄù It might not have mattered if the Gophers didnâÄôt fail to score touchdowns on two of their three red zone appearances, or if Joel Monroe didnâÄôt miss a 20-yard chip shot, or if the Gophers could have kept second-string quarterback Mike Kafka from running for 217 yards . But, as Brewster said in regards to a different topic, âÄúThose who refuse to study history are doomed to repeat it,âÄù and it wasnâÄôt the first time Northwestern shocked the Gophers. Last year, Minnesota went for a two-point conversion in overtime and didnâÄôt convert, losing 49-48 . In 2000, Northwestern capped a 21-point second half comeback with a Hail Mary completion as time expired. Brewster has stayed steadfast in his aggressive late-game decisions, though, and it has paid off at times. In this seasonâÄôs opener against Northern Illinois, the Gophers couldâÄôve kicked a game-tying field goal on fourth-and-one, but instead scored the game winning touchdown . âÄúIt was a pretty safe play, and I think Eric catches that ball 99 out of 100 times,âÄù quarterback Adam Weber said. âÄúBut we were going out there to win the game, not to play to get overtime. I hope coach will keep calling that in that situation.âÄù Weber threw the ball a season-high 51 times , and also led the team with 16 rushes . With Northwestern focusing a lot of coverage on Decker, and with Decker spraining his left ankle in the third quarter, he was forced to find more receivers than usual. He completed passes to seven different receivers, including seven to Ben Kuznia , six to Jack Simmons and five to Brandon Green . But the Gophers lost significant yardage from penalties, despite having only five. Two of WeberâÄôs longest runs were called back because of holding penalties, and a deep pass to Decker was nullified because of an illegal formation call. âÄúWe hurt ourselves by getting behind the chains,âÄù Decker said. âÄúItâÄôs hard as an offense to have to go 15 yards in three downs.âÄù The Gophers (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) eliminated themselves from any Rose Bowl speculation with the loss, and made a New YearâÄôs Day bowl game a long shot. âÄúThere were a lot of opportunities out there, and I think when we look back on it, weâÄôll kick ourselves in the shins,âÄù Weber said. âÄúWe missed out.âÄù