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Pissed Off Wildcats Beat Gophers 24-14
November 17, 2018

After a decisive win over Purdue, the Minnesota Gophers were 2-point favorites over the Northwestern Wildcats, who had already clinched first place in the Big Ten West Division.

But the Gophers couldn’t match their performance from the previous week, and, undone by turnovers, were beaten 24-14 by the Wildcats.

“We came up here as underdogs,” said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald after the game. “Are you kidding me? That pissed me off.”

Fitzgerald also was insulted by suggestions during the week that the Wildcats might not be focused because they had already wrapped up the division. “It pissed us off.”

“We won this game on Tuesday,” he said. “We had a business-like, championship approach to the week.

The teams were close in yards from scrimmage, Northwestern gaining 325 yards in 60 plays to Minnesota’s 306 yards in 67 plays. “Stats are for losers,” Fitzgerald said.

The difference came in the three turnovers the Wildcats forced against Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan. “Our defense was absolutely dominant today.” A pair of sophomores from Katy, Texas—safety Travis Whillock and linebacker Paddy Fisher—had 15 and 11 tackles, respectively, with Fisher also getting one of four sacks of Morgan.

Linebacker Nate Hall had two interceptions and five tackles before being ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter.

It was Hall’s second interception that set up the first score of the game, late in the first quarter. Hall leaped in front of Tyler Johnson and pulled down a pass from Morgan at the Minnesota 45. The Wildcats drove to the 11, and then got the ball at the 2 yard line on a pass interference penalty. Freshman Isaiah Bowser ran it in from there. Drew Luckenbaugh kicked the point-after.

The Wildcats have struggled with kickers this year as Charlie Kuhbander has been in and out of the lineup with a torn muscle. Fitzgerald used senior punter Jake Collins the week before. He obviously was concerned about the kicking game. In the second quarter Northwestern faced a fourth and 7 at the 24 yard line and went for it rather than trying a field goal. Minnesota linebacker Blake Cashman (who finished the game with 20 tackles) sacked Clayton Thorson for a 14-yard loss, and the Gophers got the ball at their own 38 yard line.

Mohamed Ibriham not only kept the drive going twice on third down, the second time for a 29-yard gain to the 2, he then recovered a fumble when Morgan dropped the snap. On third and goal at the 1, Ibraham carried the ball in for a touchdown to tie the game.

The Wildcats responded quickly. Following a 39-yard kickoff return by Kyric McGowan to the Northwestern 45, Thorson hit Bennett Skowronek for 23 yards and followed that with a 19-yard completion to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman. Thorson covered the final 13 yards himself, on a bootleg to the right that took him into the end zone untouched. Luckenbaugh was wide-right with his conversion attempt, and Northwestern took a 13-7 lead into halftime.

Minnesota had its own kicking problems with Emmit Carpenter missing a 38-yard field goal in the third quarter, and the score remained the same into the final period.

The Wildcats got the ball at its own 8 as Riley Lees made a fair catch on a 42-yard punt by Jacob Herbers. On third and 8 from the 10, Thorson hit Lees for a 17-yard gain. Three plays later, from the 30, Northwestern faced another third and long when Thorson unleashed a pass down the right sideline. Minnesota safety gambled and missed as he tried to knock down the pass, leaving J. J. Jefferson alone to haul in the pass at the Minnesota 46. Jefferson rumbled toward the end zone before being tripped up by Howden two yards short of the goal line. Bowser then ran it in for the touchdown, and Cameron Green got himself open enough in the end zone to catch the two-point conversion for a 21-7 lead.

It took only two plays for the Wildcats to get the ball back as defensive end Joe Gaziano stripped Morgan as he tried pass. Gaziano picked up the ball and returned it another eight yards, to the 17. The Minnesota defense held, but Collins came in to boot a 29-yard field goal to make it 24-7.

“I knew if we could get up by three scores in the second half, the game was ours,” said Fitzgerald. “That field goal by Collins was sweet. Gaziano was next [as a kicker, if needed]. We were kicking by the numbers, I guess.”

The Gophers mounted a 9-play, 60-yard drive that culminated with a six-yard touchdown pass from Morgan to Johnson to complete the scoring.

Minnesota dropped to 2-6 in the conference and, with a 5-6 overall record, remains a win short of bowl eligibility. The Gophers’ last chance for that win will come in its finale, at Wisconsin, a team it has not beaten that has beaten Minnesota 14 straight times.

Northwestern is 7-4 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten, its only loss coming against Michigan, 20-17. It is likely the Wildcats and Wolverines will meet again, in the conference title game.

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