College Football: Wildcats dominate Gophers

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern expects to build on another successful outing while Minnesotamay return to square one - at least on offense - after a 27-0 Wildcats victory in Saturday's Big Ten football season opener.

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Minnesota running back Rodney Smith, left, is stood up by Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker, right, during the first half of a Big Ten game at Ryan Field. Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern expects to build on another successful outing while Minnesotamay return to square one - at least on offense - after a 27-0 Wildcats victory in Saturday's Big Ten football season opener.

Northwestern recorded its second shutout in five games while the offense and special teams also turned in solid outings.

"I thought it was a pretty solid performance across the board," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Explosive play on the punt return, took care of the ball (with) no turnovers offensively and then see the way our defense was really able to make them pretty much one-dimensional and stop the run."

The No. 16 Wildcats (5-0, 1-0) are off to their first 5-0 start since 2012.

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner went 10 of 21 for 72 yards and an interception and was relieved by freshman Demry Croft in the fourth quarter.


"We've got a lot more problems than just the quarterback," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "Everybody wants to blame the quarterback, they need to blame me. ... The bottom line is that we've got a lot of other issues that we need to solve on the offensive side of the ball."

Minnesota (3-2, 0-1) collected a season-low 173 total yards - 74 rushing and 99 passing - as the Wildcats' defense, led by safety Godwin Igwebuike's career high-tying nine tackles, largely kept the Gophers bottled up.

"I feel like they're more athletic than they were a year ago and they're big up front," Kill said. "They don't make mistakes. They do their jobs. They did their jobs today. They played harder than we did."

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson was 14 of 18 for 128 yards and rushed for two touchdowns while running back Justin Jackson carried 20 times for 120 yards, the 10th game in his last 12 with 100-plus yards.

Jack Mitchell kicked field goals of 25 and 23 yards.

Northwestern's defense has given up only three touchdowns in five games and held Minnesotato 4 of 20 on third and fourth down conversions Saturday.

"I challenged them this week," Fitzgerald said. "I thought for a couple of weeks they weren't having as much fun as they did earlier in the year. They came back with that passionate performance this week."

Northwestern stalled at the Minnesota eight on its opening drive as Mitchell's first field goal opened a 3-0 lead with 7::27 left in first quarter.


The Wildcats held promising field position at the Gophers 42 after cornerback Matthew Harris' second quarter interception. But Northwestern barely penetrated past the 30 and Mitchell missed on a 41-yard field-goal try on fourth down in a tricky wind.

Miles Shuler's 55-yard punt return late in the first half set up a Northwestern's first touchdown, a 5-yard first down run by Thorson as The Wildcats opened a 10-0 lead with 1:35 left in the half.

The Wildcats later marched inside the Gophers 5 but were shut out of the end zone on three straight tries before Mitchell's 23-yard field goal made it 13-0 with 6:14 left in the third.

But they cashed in on their next red zone trip when Thorson scored on a 1-yard plunge as Northwestern opened a 20-0 lead with 1:25 showing in the third quarter.

A fourth quarter score was sustained on review after Anthony Walker Jr. scooped up aMinnesota fumble and dashed 13 yards as the Wildcats' lead reached 27-0.

NOTES: The No. 16 Wildcats were the second ranked team the Gophers have faced this season after a season-opening 23-17 loss to No. 4 TCU. ... Minnesota hasn't hesitated to give young players a shot with six true freshmen and seven redshirt freshmen already seeing time this season. ... Both teams had to contend with stiff winds from the north/northeast off Lake Michigan, reaching as high as 23 miles per hour in the first half. ... Northwestern came into the game ranked first nationally in third down percentage defense (18.6 percent) and was third in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average 8.8 points per game. ... Both teams move into week two of Big Ten play on the road. Northwestern travels to Michigan next Saturday whileMinnesota is at Purdue.

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