Minnesota’s defense falters in shutout loss to Northwestern

The Gophers allowed 277 yards on the ground.

Eric Carter and Jacob Huff tackle Northwestern running back Justin Jackson on Saturday Nov. 18 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.

Courtney Deutz

Eric Carter and Jacob Huff tackle Northwestern running back Justin Jackson on Saturday Nov. 18 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.

Drew Cove

With 277 rushing yards allowed, the Gophers lost yet another Big Ten game.

Minnesota (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) had been a team characterized by its dynamic running attack and defensive capabilities up front, but that wasn’t the case in their 39-0 loss to No. 23 Northwestern (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten), where both facets of the defense did not stop the Wildcats offense.

“We had some guys not in their gap, where they needed to be,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “We had some guys go out and do some things that are outside the scheme because they wanted to make the play, which can’t happen.”

Minnesota came into the day as seven-point underdogs, but the afternoon ended with the Gophers being shut out and losing by 39 points.

“It’s really just discipline,” said linebacker Thomas Barber. “[It’s] execution. We knew what was coming.”

The Gophers saw Wildcats running back Justin Jackson rush for 166 of the total 277 rushing yards on 31 attempts Saturday. He had a long run of 41 yards and averaged over five yards per carry.

Jackson found success running up the middle through the Gophers defense. He became the second running back in the Big Ten to run for over 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons.

“He’s a very good back,” Barber said. “[He’s] a very shifty, elusive back. He’s a great back.”

While Jackson succeeded on the run, the red zone defense for Minnesota faltered on the pass.

The Gophers allowed three touchdowns in the red zone through the air, with special back Garrett Dickerson as the receiver on two of those plays.

Barber was one of the few bright spots for Minnesota, with another game for him over 10 tackles. He had 15, and the next best tackler had six.

The Gophers defense was put in some less-than ideal conditions with field position against them. Minnesota turned over the ball five times Saturday — two fumbles and three interceptions.

The defense had to face the Northwestern offense starting with field position in Minnesota territory on six of 14 drives. 

Minnesota allowed Northwestern to score on three drives consisting of three plays or less, one being a three-play 27 yard drive, a two-play 15 yard drive and a one-play 24-yard run to the end zone.

“Coach [Kenni] Burns told us pregame [to] just make sure you focus on the ball,” said running back Kobe McCrary. “It’s disappointing, we turned the ball over five times.”

The Gophers defense was also thrust into more short-field situations, this time due to punting.

Minnesota’s punter, Ryan Santoso, had two punts around midfield. The first punt landed in Minnesota territory at the 49-yard line, and it was only a 19-yard punt. The second punt went off the side of Santoso’s foot, and made it to the Northwestern 49-yard line. The drive after the second punt resulted in a touchdown.

The Gophers defense have had two games allowing 33 points or more. They head into the last weekend of the regular season to play against Minnesota’s highest-ranked opponent of the season, border rival No. 5 Wisconsin. The Badgers scored 24 points and had 325 yards against Michigan Saturday.