Gophers shut out in ugly loss at Northwestern

The Gophers dropped to 5-6 in the worst loss to Northwestern in Gophers’ history.

Rodney Smith gets tackled by Northwestern players on Saturday, Nov. 18 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.

Courtney Deutz

Rodney Smith gets tackled by Northwestern players on Saturday, Nov. 18 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.

Jack Warrick

The game looked over at halftime. As the clock ran down to zero to end the half, the score was 25-0, Northwestern over Minnesota.

In the second half, it didn’t get much better for the Gophers.

Minnesota (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) fell to No. 23 Northwestern 39-0 on Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.

“Before we could even have an opportunity to go win the game, we were losing the game so fast that it just got out of control, quickly,” said head coach P.J. Fleck.

As the rain turned into snow in the third quarter, the Gophers were down by 25 points with 5:54 to play in the third quarter, and still nothing was going their way.

The Gophers looked like they were going to put some points on the board late in the third quarter when quarterback Demry Croft threw a strike to receiver Phillip Howard. Instead, it bounced off Howard and Northwestern linebacker Nate Hall intercepted with five seconds left in the third quarter, and brought the ball out of the end zone to the 18-yard line. 

In the wet, cold and windy game, the Gophers offensive line allowed six sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss. Croft ended the day passing 2-11 with 43 yards in the air.

“It was a little tough, you know, wet balls, cold weather, wind — that’s a tough combination to work with,” Croft said. “But we have to make things shake.”

Croft threw an interception to Northwestern’s cornerback Montre Hartage with just under four minutes to play in the first half. Two plays later, Northwestern wide receiver Jelani Roberts ran 12 yards for a touchdown and a 19-0 lead.

Northwestern (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten)  tacked on another touchdown after a stagnant Gophers offense forced kicker Ryan Santoso to punt into the wind, and the Northwestern offense went 51 yards in seven plays for another touchdown with 26 seconds remaining.

The score was 25-0 at halftime, with two of the four touchdowns coming off of Gophers turnovers in that half. Croft threw three interceptions and the offense had two fumbles, while the Wildcats never coughed it up.

“The magnitude of the score is five turnovers, seven times five equals 35 — it was 39 to nothing,” Fleck said. “When you turn the ball over, and you turn it over inside your own zone as many times as we did … they’re going to score every time.”

The 25 points scored in the second quarter were the most points the Gophers defense has given up in a quarter this season.  Northwestern ran the ball better than usual, with 176 rushing yards in the first half. 

Coming off a season-high 409-yard rushing game against Nebraska, the team didn’t take the momentum with them to Evanston. They had just 45 rushing yards in the first half — 139 at the end of the game — and no touchdowns to show. Croft ran for a Gophers quarterback record 183 yards in the Nebraska game last week, he had -17 at Northwestern this week. 

“Their [defensive line is] pretty good. The front seven was pretty good. I mean one of the top in the Big Ten,” said Gophers running back Kobe McCrary. “They’re pretty good, we’ve got to give them respect. Everything we got was hard.”

The 39-0 loss was the worst margin of defeat to Northwestern in Gophers history. The previous worst was a 42-6 loss in 1943. The Gophers had not been shutout this season until Saturday.

“I told our team in there we never really had opportunities to go win the football game because of the turnovers that we had,” Fleck said. “Five turnovers, six drops, when you have that you’re not going to win many football games.”

If the Gophers would have beat the Wildcats Saturday, a bowl berth would be guaranteed. Now, they will play the No. 5 ranked Wisconsin Badgers. The Gophers need to pull off an upset to improve to .500 on the season and confirm a bowl game.

“I mean, every loss is a disappointment,” McCrary said. “But we just got to come in tomorrow, watch film and just capitalize and get ready for Wisconsin.”