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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern falls 41-14 at home to Minnesota

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It’s not getting better anytime soon.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, IL. — This one had disaster written all over it right from the start.

Northwestern football (3-5, 1-4 B1G) fell 41-14 to the Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-2, 4-1) with neither side of the ball looking particularly impressive.

Like 2019’s home game versus Minnesota, the Wildcats buried themselves in an early hole and called Andrew Marty into relief at quarterback. While Marty entered the game in 2019 due to Hunter Johnson suffering an injury, he entered this year’s game due to Ryan Hilinski’s poor performance.

In the first half, Hilinski completed one of five passes for yards with a 23.7 quarterback rating. Andrew Marty went 10-16 with 93 passing yards and two touchdowns while carrying the ball seven times for 28 yards and a 152.6 quarterback rating. Evan Hull rushed 15 times for 107 yards. Defensively, the ‘Cats allowed 134 yards through the air and 308 yards on the ground. Minnesota averaged 5.8 yards per carry.

Northwestern began the game with its bend-don’t-break defense as Jim O’Neil’s unit held Minnesota to three points following a 12-play, 67-yard opening drive. Unfortunately, Northwestern’s first play from scrimmage defensive woes transferred to Mike Bajakian’s unit, as Malik Washington fumbled a five-yard reception that Minnesota recovered and returned for a touchdown, giving the Gophers an early 10-0 lead.

Northwestern went three-and-out on the next possession before the defense once again held Minnesota to three points in the red zone. On the third drive of the game for NU, the offense finally pulled itself out of the mud, as Evan Hull managed to burst through Minnesota’s defense for a 30-yard run, putting the Wildcat offense in Minnesota territory, trailing 13-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Once Northwestern entered the red zone, Andrew Marty made his much-anticipated return, seeing the field for the first time since his injury against Duke. Marty ran the ball effectively for a few plays before tossing a six-yard screen pass touchdown to Hull, cutting Minnesota’s lead to six points.

Minnesota’s next possession, however, culminated in an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to regain a 20-7 lead. The Wildcats opted to trot out Ryan Hilinski on the ensuing possession and Northwestern once again went three-and-out. On Minnesota’s next possession, its final of the first half, the Gophers moved the ball to Northwestern’s 22-yard line before Brandon Joseph secured his second interception of the season off of a deflection in the end zone. Despite thirty seconds remaining in the first half, the Wildcats reinserted Andrew Marty to knee the football at NU’s own 20 yard-line and enter halftime trailing 20-7.

Pat Fitzgerald opened the second half by sticking with his senior quarterback — fan favorite Andrew Marty. Northwestern’s opening drive was a promising one, as Marty led the ‘Cats on a 12-play, 47-yard drive before turning the ball over on downs at Minnesota’s 28-yard line. Northwestern’s defense forced its first three-and-out of the contest on Minnesota’s next offensive possession, partially due to an ineligible man downfield on what would have been a 16-yard completion for the Gophers.

Once the Wildcats got the ball back, Jacob Gill dropped a pass from Marty on third and four from the NU 27-yard line and Northwestern punted the ball back to the Gophers after another three-and-out. P.J. Fleck’s squad promptly responded with a methodical 11-play, 71-yard drive that lasted over six minutes. The possession resulted in a Tanner Morgan 18-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter, extending Minnesota’s lead over the Wildcats to 27-7.

The problems only persisted, as the ‘Cats turned the ball over on downs at their own 43-yard line. The Golden Gophers then clinched the game with a 41-yard rushing touchdown on second and 18 by beating NU to the left edge, marking a 34-7 Minnesota lead late in the game’s action. While the Wildcats responded with a nine-play, 74-yard drive touchdown drive capped off by a 17-yard Berkeley Holman touchdown reception, it was too little, too late. Northwestern ultimately fell 41-14 at the hands of Minnesota, making it the team’s second-biggest loss on the season, behind only the 49-point drubbing they suffered in Lincoln.

The ‘Cats return to action next week under the lights at home against the now two-loss Iowa Hawkeyes.