Special Teams, Missed Opportunities Let Down NU

By Greg Mroz

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Northwestern had seen their special teams play improve over the course of the past few weeks.

But when they needed them the most, they proved to be anything but special.

Northwestern fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 24-17 on Saturday. A 100-yard kickoff return touchdown by Minnesota’s Jalen Myrick turned out to be the difference.

“It looked like a couple of our guys from the field over-ran the ball,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Our kickoff team has been pretty good all year. Its disappointing.”

It was the first kickoff return touchdown allowed by Northwestern since Indiana’s Tevin Coleman did it on Sept. 29, 2012.

“We just didn’t do our jobs,” junior cornerback/special teams player Nick Vanhoose said. “We just didn’t play the right coverage.”

The game seemingly turned in Minnesota’s favor at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Already in Northwestern territory and leading 14-10, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner completed a 20-yard curl route to Issac Fruechte that put the Gophers on the Northwestern 15-yard line.

On third down and three yards from the Northwestern 8-yard line, Leidner tried a corner fade to Maxx Williams, but Godwin Igwebuike broke the pass up, leading to a 25 field goal by Ryan Santoso that increased their lead to seven.

After Solomon Vault fumbled the ensuing kickoff out of bounds at the Northwestern 3-yard line, quarterback Trevor Siemian completed a third down pass to Tony Jones and then scrambled out of the pocket for an 11-yard floater to Kyle Prater.

Siemian marched the Wildcats down the field and Northwestern was set up with first-and-goal at the 10. On third down, Siemian threw an incomplete pass intended for Miles Shuler, but Minnesota was called for roughing the passer and gave Northwestern first-and-goal from the 2.

Trevor Siemian’s fourth rushing touchdown in his last two games completed the 97-yard drive and tied the game, 17-17, with about seven minutes left in the fourth.

“Guys made some plays, got good protection — that’s what happens when guys execute” Siemian said.

However, Myrick’s return touchdown immediately followed Northwestern’s drive.

“They won just a little bit more than we did today,” freshman running back Justin Jackson said. “It’s a collective effort.”

Jackson led the way on offense, rushing for 106 yards on 23 carries and also catching four passes for 50 yards.

Siemian went 32 for 50 for 269 yards, but dropped passes, along with untimely penalties, proved costly.

“When you allow a team to get a lead that plays that type of offense, you have to press a little bit.” Fitzgerald added. “We need to make more explosive plays.”

Northwestern outgained Minnesota 393 yards to 274, but the Wildcats ran 84 plays to Minnesota’s 54.

David Cobb became the fourteenth player in Minnesota history to rush for over 2,000 career yards. He tacked on 103 yards on 30 carries.

The Wildcats committed personal foul penalties on each of Minnesota’s first two scoring drives, which set up the Golden Gophers with first-and-goal at the 5-yard line both times. Leidner had two 1-yard runs at the goal line that gave Minnesota 7-point leads in both the first and second quarters.

“We made little detailed mistakes today” Fitzgerald said “For the most part, I think we handled the things we tried to do pretty decent.”

According to VanHoose, the team will not dwell on this Saturday’s loss for too long.

“It’s a huge bummer ending the streak, but this week of practice will be big in responding to this loss” Vanhoose said.

Northwestern, now 2-1 in conference, will face the Nebraska Cornhuskers next Saturday in a prime time matchup at home.



Rapid Reaction: Minnesota 24, Northwestern 17

By Greg Mroz

Special Teams: Northwestern’s special teams had been playing fairly well coming into this game, but in the 4th quarter they cost the Wildcats the game. After tying the game up at 17 with 7:32 left in the 4th, the ensuing kickoff was returned 100 yards for a touchdown by Minnesota’s Jalen Myrick. It was the first time Northwestern had allowed a kickoff to be returned for a touchdown since Tevin Coleman of Indiana did it back in 2012.

Penalties: Eric Olson committed 3 penalties at right tackle for Northwestern, and Minnesota on both of their offensive touchdowns had personal foul penalties added on to two 20+ yard plays that gave the Gophers 1st and goal from the 5 both times.

Justin Jackson: The true freshman lead Northwestern in rushing and was 2nd in receiving with 108 yards on the ground and 50 in the air. If not for Jackson, this margin of victory for Minnesota would have been a lot larger.

3rd Quarter Recap

By Greg Mroz

1. Northwestern is back in the takeaway department. Nick VanHoose early in the 3rd quarter picked off a sideline pattern from Mitch Leidner. 3rd straight game Northwestern has picked off at least 1 pass..

2. Minnesota receivers are getting a lot of cushion on sideline patterns. Twice on 3rd down, Leidner was able to convert on a sideline pattern with seemingly no Northwestern defender within five yards of the receiver.

3. Justin Jackson through 3 quarters has 95 yards on 19 carries. He essentially has been the Northwestern offense.

2nd Quarter Recap

By Greg Mroz

1. Northwestern gained new life after they looked to have turned the ball over. Trevor Siemian was sacked and fumbled the ball, but Matt Frazier recovered and Siemian proceeded to lead the Wildcats 9 plays down the field for a touchdown. Had Frazier not recovered, the result could have turned out much differently.

2. Minnesota was again the beneficiary of a big play and a penalty added on to the end of the play. After Mitch Leidner found a wide open Maxx Williams for 52 yards Godwin Igwebuike was called for a facemask penalty that set up 1st and goal from the 5 yard line. 2 plays later Leidner snuck the ball in from the 1 for his 2nd rush TD of the game.

3. Justin Jackson fights for hard yardage. He has the type of foot-speed that allows him to break tackles. Jackson has 13 carries for 67 yards to this point in the game.

4. On the final drive of the half Northwestern got the ball to a 1st and goal situation from the 4 yard line. After a rush and a sideline pass, the Wildcats were left with 3rd and goal from the 2. Siemian was flushed from the pocket and forced to throw the ball away. Jack Mitchell converted a 19 yard field goal attempt that made the score 14-10 Minnesota going into halftime.

5. The last Northwestern scoring drive, like the first, was kept alive by a significant ruling.  On 3rd and 10 from their own 36, Siemian threw a pass to Kyle Prater that appeared to be incomplete. Yet after further review, Prater clearly had possession of the ball when he hit the ground, giving Northwestern a 1st down and keeping the drive alive.

1st Quarter Recap

By Greg Mroz

1. David Cobb is really hard to bring down. Rushed for 38 yards on 9 carries in the 1st quarter. He went over 2,000 yards for his career in the first quarter and became the 14th player in Gopher history with that distinction.

2. Minnesota got benefited from a hands to the face penalty on Dean Lowry on a 22 yard broken play run by Mitch Leidner. Leidner on that drive had 3 carries for 32 yards.

3. Minnesota dominated time of possession, winning that 8:42 to 6:18, although it felt much longer because of Minnesota’s run-heavy offense.

4. Gophers are run-heavy. 15 run plays to 3 pass plays in the 1st quarter.

5. Northwestern had 2 big plays called back for illegal formation penalties on right tackle Eric Olson. The second one was on a deep pass to Miles Shuler that would have gotten Northwestern to the Minnesota 20.

Quick Hits: Pregame at Minnesota

By Greg Mroz

Here are 5 quick hits before the Gophers and Wildcats kick off from TCF Bank Stadium.

1. Minnesota is last in the Big Ten in total yardage and pass yards per game. Expect to see a lot of David Cobb.

2. Weather is bordering on the 40 degree mark. Coldest start time for a game so far this season.

3. Northwestern is all white today. White helmets that they wore against Western Illinois, the regular white uniforms, and white pants.

4. Maxx Williams, Minnesota’s leading receiver, has 161 receiving yards on the season. He also has 3 of Minnesota’s 4 receiving touchdowns.

5. With facing Nebraska next week, Northwestern will be facing two consecutive teams coming off bye weeks.

Northwestern looks to remain perfect in B1G play against Minnesota


By Tyler Kendall

The past two weeks for Wildcat football have included two upsets and two Big Ten recognitions for freshmen. Looking for its fourth consecutive victory, Northwestern will travel to TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 11 to take on the Minnesota Gophers.

While last weekend’s win over no. 17 Wisconsin improved NU’s record to 3-2, Minnesota has a 4-1 record going into the game on Saturday. Minnesota will be coming off of a bye week with a home field advantage.

“We’re going to play a very good football team, looking ahead,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a press conference on Monday. “They got after us a year ago here, and got seven guys coming back. It’s going to be a great challenge and should be one heck of a football game.”

Last year, NU lost to Minnesota, 20-17 at home.

Fitzgerald showed respect for Minnesota’s head coach, Jerry Kill, and noted the team’s strengths.

“They do things schematically, and it shows up on tape,” Fitzgerald said. “The credit, obviously, starts at the top with his leadership and just who he is. They’re very well coached; they’re fast, they’re physical.”

After Northwestern was able to limit Wisconsin to only 14 points last week, the ‘Cats are looking to have the same defensive success against a similar Minnesota team. Both the Badgers and Gophers have relied heavily on the running game behind large, physical offensive lines in order to make up for weak passing attacks. So far this year, Gophers senior RB David Cobb has 722 rushing yards. Fitzgerald did say, however, that there are difference between the teams. For example, Minnesota’s game plan will include more quarterback options and runs.

Key to the Wildcat’s win over Wisconsin was the play of redshirt freshman Godwin Igwebuike, who had 8 tackles and 3 interceptions in the game. Igwebuike won Big Ten Defensive Player and Freshman of the Week honors for his performance last Saturday — making him the second NU freshman defensive player to win the latter award in the past two weeks, after Anthony Walker received the recognition for his performance against Penn State.

Both Northwestern and Minnesota have a strong defense this year, with NU only allowing a combined 27 points over the last three games, versus Minnesota’s 21 points allowed. Minnesota’s last game was a 30-14 win on the road against Michigan, a team which has looked this season like one of the weakest teams in the conference.  The game against Michigan was Minnesota’s fourth win of the season and only Big Ten match up to date. The Gophers other three wins came against San Jose State, Middle Tennessee, and Eastern Illinois.

A win this weekend would give Northwestern its first 3-0 start to a Big ten campaign since 2000, the last year Northwestern won the Big Ten. After a slow start to the season, a win this week would solidify Northwestern’s newfound status as a Big Ten contender. Not only that, it would put next weekend’s Homecoming game against Nebraska into the spotlight as a game for the control of the Big Ten West.

SportsNight (10/9/14)


Check out the season’s second episode of SportsNight! Anchors Axel Boada and Jesse Kirsch take you to Ryan Field for a big, Big Ten win and out to Lakeside Field to show you how the men’s soccer team fared against a strong team of Terrapins of Maryland. All that and more, on SportsNight. Right Now.

McEvilly granted sixth year of eligibility

The NCAA announced Thursday that Northwestern defensive lineman Sean McEvilly would be eligible to return for the 2015 season after he missed all of the 2014 with what multiple sources are calling a foot injury.

After a successful 2012 season in which he started the last 10 games and recorded 20 tackles, McEvilly was expected to be a starter for the Wildcats in 2013. But a foot injury limited him to just five games that season.

Northwestern had hoped McEvilly could provide a boost to a defensive tackle position that was expected to be a weakness of the Wildcat defense in 2014. This announcement means McEvilly will join WR Christian Jones as players who missed 2014 but will return next season.