Running game carries Gophers

by Brian Hall

>It was a sign of things to come as Minnesota’s run defense was unable to contain the Wildcats’ rushing offense and running back Jason Wright.

Even when Northwestern was down by 24 in the fourth quarter and time was not in its favor, the Wildcats chose to stick with their attack of running the ball.

“I was not pleased with the defensive performance,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said. “We started out poor, then stiffened up and then seemed lost again at the end of the game. We couldn’t’ make a tackle.”

Wright ran 21 times for 148 yards while backup Noah Herron gained 87 yards on only nine carries.

Minnesota entered the contest with the Big Ten’ fourth ranked, 22nd nationally, run defense giving up only 108.2 yards per game.

Northwestern had 168 yards by halftime en route to a total of 306 yards on the ground for the game.

The running game also helped provide the Wildcats with 28 first downs.

“I like to think we can run the ball on any team,” Northwestern coach Randy Walker said. “I at least like to start there. We are making progress but it is a slow uphill battle with our running game.”

The Wildcats total is the most given up by the Gophers this season. Entering on Thursday, Northwestern was eighth in conference averaging only 157.0 yards per game.

“We always come in trying to stop the run,” said linebacker Ben West, who led the team with 11 total tackles. “I always think run and then react to the pass. They played hard and we had a hard time reacting to their up-tempo game.

“I think we relaxed a little bit and you can’t do that. As the middle linebacker it is my job to get them to play and I guess I failed in that.”

Kamrath gets rare start

Minnesota quarterback Benji Kamrath made his second career start in place of hobbled Asad Abdul-Khaliq.

The junior also started the first game of the season, but handed off the ball on one play before giving way to Abdul-Khaliq in that contest.

Because of the Gophers solid rushing attack, Kamrath wasn’t relied upon, but he finished the game completing six of nine passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns.

Kamrath hit tight end Scooter Baugus in the end zone on the opening play of the second quarter. The touchdown strike marked Kamrath’s first career touchdown pass and the senior, Baugus’ first career touchdown reception.

Mays does it again

Senior Jermaine Mays is quickly becoming a secret special teams weapon for Minnesota.

For the second consecutive week, Mays blocked a punt and recovered the ball for a touchdown.

Mays also recorded his third straight contest with a blocked punt. His most recent effort marks the fourth time in his career.

On the sidelines

Both of Minnesota’s co-captains sat out Thursday’s win.

Senior cornerback Mike Lehan, the only starting senior on defense, was not in uniform for the second consecutive week with a leg injury.

Meanwhile, Abdul-Khaliq was in uniform but did not play. He is still dealing with an ankle injury he suffered three weeks ago against Purdue.

Starting linebacker Justin Fraley, who sat out last week’s game foot ailment, didn’t start but entered the game early in the second quarter.

After the game, wide receiver Keith Matthews’ left shoulder was iced as he headed to the Metrodome’s X-ray room. Mason said there were no significant injuries in his postgame press conference.

Brian Hall covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]