MINNEAPOLIS — When it rains, it pours. While the freezing cold temps produced snow instead of rain, the bad fortune seemed to pile more and more onto the Wildcats as the game went on.
In sub-30-degree weather, Northwestern (1-9, 1-6 B1G) fell 31-3 to Minnesota (7-3, 4-3 B1G) in a game that caused much more damage than just another addition to the loss column. While the Wildcats were completely crushed in the run game, where Northwestern was outgained, 302-72, the far bigger loss was due to injury, where both Brendan Sullivan and Ryan Hilinski left the game.
Mohamed Ibrahim led the Gophers on the ground with a field day, rushing for 178 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries. Among Northwestern’s four quarterbacks who played, Sullivan led the team with 94 yards on 9-for-11 passing, while Malik Washington had six catches for 97 yards.
After two Minnesota three-and-outs sandwiched one of Northwestern’s own, Sullivan earned the game’s first chain movement by firing an over-the-shoulder pass to Marshall Lang for 37 yards. Despite bobbling the catch, Lang hauled in the large gain to put NU in field goal position. However, faced with a fourth-and-one scenario at the Minnesota 16-yard line, Pat Fitzgerald opted to go for the risk. Evan Hull was promptly stuffed, and the ‘Cats turned the ball over on downs. Through two drives, the offensive line had not been able to get any push, as the team managed seven carries for just four yards.
The Golden Gophers appeared reenergized by the turnover, and came out ready to move the chains. Ibrahim bounced off several tacklers for a 14-yard gain on the drive’s first play, then later duplicated the rush with another elusive run. Minnesota’s ground-and-pound gameplan worked to perfection, as Ibrahim and Trey Potts sliced up the Northwestern defense before Ibrahim punched in a six-yard touchdown to take the lead. The duo combined for 69 yards on seven carries on the drive.
Northwestern consequently went three-and-out, but the defense held strong to get the ball back. Sullivan nearly found Donny Navarro III for another deep shot, but Navarro wasn’t quite able to get under the loft, and the pass fell just incomplete. Hull ran up the gut and caught a screen for three and four yards, respectively, but it wasn’t enough as Northwestern was forced to punt for the third time in four drives.
Minnesota then moved down the field with ease, partially due to a questionable pass interference call on Devin Turner. Ibrahim continued chugging his way through the defense, eventually notching his second score from a yard out. Nearly halfway through the second quarter, Minnesota led Northwestern 14-0 on the back of Ibrahim’s 88 yards and pair of TDs.
Mike Bajakian opted to begin using the no-huddle offense, and initially, it paid off. Sullivan found Washington on an out route for a pickup of 11 yards, but two short runs followed by a sack on a blitz stopped the Wildcats’ progress in its tracks.
On the very next play, linebacker Mac Uihlein, who had played well in place of the injured Bryce Gallagher, was called for targeting on a tough hit to Athan Kaliakmanis. In addition to the disqualification of the sophomore linebacker, Minnesota gained 15 yards on the penalty, keeping the Gophers moving. However, an illegal block in the back call kept Kaliakmanis and company from scoring.
With 2:08 to go in the half, Northwestern earned the ball backed up to its own seven-yard line. Sullivan threw a dart to Washington on the left sideline for a 27-yard gain but was hit hard, taking him out of the game. Hilinski came in at quarterback after a 7-for-8 passing, 89-yard performance by Sullivan.
On his first play in the game, Hilinski continued what Sullivan started, finding Washington for a massive 49-yard catch and run. The pass got Northwestern to the 17-yard line, but a third-down underthrown pass to an open Washington held the ‘Cats to a field goal.
At the half, Minnesota led 14-3 while outgaining Northwestern 170-6 on the ground. Neither team had managed a third-down conversion, as the teams combined to go 0-for-10. Ibrahim led the way for the Gophers with 116 yards and a pair of scores.
Northwestern started with the ball in the second half, but the ‘Cats wouldn’t have possession for long. On the second play of the drive, Hilinski threw an interception right into the waiting arms of defender Tyler Nubin, who earned his fourth pick of the season. The Gophers capitalized with three, as Matthew Trickett nailed a 41-yarder to increase the lead to 17-3.
Sullivan returned to the game after Hilinski’s interception, but it mattered not as the drive was stopped after a trio of plays. On the down following the punt, Ibrahim burst up the middle for 21 yards, inching closer to the 150-yard mark. Two plays later on third down, Dylan Wright hauled in a 14-yard pass, but Turner laid down a booming hit to force the fumble, which was consequently recovered by A.J. Hampton.
On the ensuing possession, Hull scampered up the middle to put Northwestern into a threatening position. However, several low throws by Hilinski, who returned on the drive, caused the ‘Cats to attempt a fourth-and-two conversion. Hilinski faked out the defense on a rollout and had a wide-open Hull available to convert the first down, but the lofted pass was way over Hull’s head, leading to the second missed fourth down conversion for the Wildcats. Minnesota marched 59 yards over 12 plays, and Ibrahim punched in his third touchdown of the day to put UMN up 24-3.
After getting the ball back, Hilinski completed a pass to Genson Hooper Price, but was crushed on the hit and had to get carted off after what appeared to be a serious leg injury. Nubin was called for roughing the passer on the low hit, and the penalty combined with several carries from Hull to advance the ‘Cats into enemy territory. Third-string quarterback Carl Richardson wasn’t able to move the chains much beyond that, though, and the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs for the third time of the day. On the ensuing drive, first-year Gopher running back Zach Evans added Minnesota’s fourth rushing touchdown.
Richardson later threw an interception, and was replaced by sophomore Cole Freeman.
Northwestern will take on Purdue in one week from West Lafayette, Ind. as the Wildcats will attempt to avoid their first double-digit losing season since 1989.