Saturday, November 19, 2011
Final: Northwestern 28, Minnesota 13
By Adam Rittenberg
Northwestern is bowl eligible, and the Wildcats might be the hottest team in the Big Ten.
Pat Fitzgerald's crew won its fourth consecutive game to get above .500 (6-5) for the first time since Oct. 1. The Wildcats can secure a bowl berth by beating Michigan State next week, but they're in good shape after a 28-13 win against Minnesota.
Once again, Northwestern's defense triggered the effort and bought enough time for the offense to get going in the fourth quarter. Minnesota moved the ball against the Wildcats -- quarterback MarQueis Gray (147 rush yards) and running back Duane Bennett (127 rush yards) because the first Minnesota quarterback-running back pair to eclipse 100 rush yards in the same game since 2003 -- but Northwestern kept the Gophers out of the end zone and made big plays. The biggest came from safety Brian Peters, who caught a deflected Gray pass in the end zone for an interception. Gray showed he can be dangerous on his feet but still has a long way to go as a passer (9 of 21 for 124 yards and an interception).
Northwestern's offense scored three touchdowns in the first 12:31 but disappeared in the second and third quarters, as Minnesota took the unit out of its rhythm. The Wildcats recovered late with an impressive 15-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped by a Jacob Schmidt run. Schmidt (13 carries, 69 yards, TD) had a very nice fourth quarter, and Persa, while not playing his best game, had two touchdown strikes and 216 pass yards.
The bigger story is a defense that has rebounded nicely the past three weeks after a miserable start to Big Ten play.
It wasn't the prettiest win, but Northwestern will take it and move on. After starting the season 2-5, Northwestern is in position to go bowling again.