Here’s the weekly stock report from No. 22 Northwestern’s 24-14 win over Minnesota.
The defensive line constantly forced pressure, making Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan uncomfortable all afternoon. Joe Gaziano, Earnest Brown IV and Trent Goens all came to play, and it gave the entire defense a jolt. Minnesota’s offensive line had been trending upward coming into this contest, but the ‘Cats were able to stuff the Gophers on several short-yardage situations. When Minnesota was trying to mount any sort of comeback in the fourth quarter, the unit exerted its dominance. Joe Gaziano torched Donnell Greene and stripped Morgan of the football, and Brown sacked Tanner Morgan on a fourth down, indicative of the defensive line’s overall performance.
The ‘Cats played a clean game and took advantage of three Minnesota turnovers to score 10 points. Northwestern worked as a synergistic unit to force turnovers and turn them into points. Too often we have seen a lack of opportunism from this offense, but it was steady today, and the 10 points off of turnovers is what gave the ‘Cats the win.
Since being inserted into the lineup a few weeks ago, Whillock has had his ups and downs. Today, however, he was fantastic, leading the team in tackles for the third consecutive week. He made some critical plays, notably an open field tackle on Mohamed Ibrahim and a nice end zone pass breakup in the fourth quarter.
After wrapping up the division, making sure players don’t suffer pointless injuries is of utmost importance. Pat Fitzgerald made sure to let everyone know this week that he was not going to rest anyone, but the ‘Cats suffered injuries to Flynn Nagel and Drew Luckenbaugh. Nagel is Northwestern’s leading receiver, and having the senior available for the Big Ten Championship is critical. For the kicking game, well…who knows what the deal is. The two placekickers, Kuhbander and Luckenbaugh, seem to rotate being hurt every other week, and fortunately Jake Collins’ field goal attempt turned out much better this week than last week at Iowa.
The offensive line in the second half
After a hot start and good first half protecting Thorson and creating lanes for Bowser, the offensive line cooled off considerably in the second half. Bowser is a tough runner, but he had little running room after halftime, averaging under three yards per carry for the game. Minnesota’s defense played well once again coming off a beatdown of Purdue, but the offensive line looked like two different units from half to half.
JJ Jefferson’s awareness
After Clayton Thorson’s beautiful sideline find, it looked like there was nothing between Jefferson, the former high school track star, and the endzone. He just never seemed to speed all the way up as he repeatedly looked back to his left, but did not see the second defender who tracked him down from behind inside the five-yard line.