For the first time since October 21, 1995, the Northwestern Wildcats shut out a Big Ten opponent at home, beating the Minnesota Golden Gophers 27-0 at Ryan Field.
Northwestern dominated the Gophers in all facets of the game, holding them to just 173 yards of offense, while putting up over 300 yards of offense themselves
It was a “pretty darn good, complete performance in all three phases of the game,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Starting from the opening kick, the Wildcats outplayed the Gophers. After forcing a punt on the opening drive, the Wildcats moved downfield with relative ease, kicking a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Minnesota, on their longest drive of the game, elected to go for it on fourth and seven on Northwestern’s 31-yard line, rather than kick a field goal. The Gophers turned it over on downs, ending a 6 play, 37 yard drive. From there on out, the Wildcats defense enforced its will upon Minnesota, while Clayton Thorson and the Northwestern offense did pretty much the same to Minnesota’s defense.
A 55-yard punt return by Miles Shuler near the end of the first half put the Wildcats in the red zone for the second time on the day, and Thorson followed it up with a 5-yard touchdown run to put the ‘Cats up 10.
In the second half the ‘Cats picked up right where they left off, marching down the field on a 19-play, 69 yard drive that took almost nine minutes, to take a 13-0 lead. Among the highlights, a Solomon Vault one-handed touchdown grab, that although it was overturned, earned high praise from the crowd.
Fitzgerald said, “that third quarter drive offensively, really set the tone for the second half.”
And after another turnover on downs, the Gophers’ second of the game, Clayton Thorson scored his second touchdown of the game, this time on a one-yard run up the middle, to put the ‘Cats up 20.
Northwestern’s defense finished the Gophers off early on in the fourth quarter, when Anthony Walker scooped up a Mitch Leidner fumble and took it in for the score. One play before, a would-be interception by Jaylen Prater wasn’t reviewed.
“Jaylen’s was my fault,” Fitzgerald said, “I should have taken a timeout.”
Justin Jackson again led the Wildcats offense, rushing for 120 yards on 20 carries, but Thorson may have had his best game as a Wildcat, not only playing mistake-free football, but also completing 14 of 19 passes for 128 yards, while rushing for 24 yards and two touchdowns.
“Zero turnovers baby,” Fitzgerald remarked when asked about Thorson’s performance. For the fourth time in five games, Northwestern won the turnover battle.
On defense, Godwin Igwebuike, coming off an injury against Ball State, led the ‘Cats with nine tackles, tying a career high. The Gophers went 4 of 16 on third down conversions against the nations’ best third down defense and 0 for 4 on fourth downs.
“That’s pretty dominant,” Fitzgerald said. But Fitzgerald hesitated when comparing this year’s defense to his 1995 team that went to the Rose Bowl. “Not ready to put this group in the same category,” he said, “But the potential is there.”
The Wildcats are 5-0 for the first time since 2012. Northwestern goes on the road next week to face 4-1 Michigan in Ann Arbor.