The Minnesota Golden Gophers dropped to 2-9 on the 2011 season on Saturday afternoon, falling in their final road contest of 2011 to the Northwestern Wildcats by a final score of 28-13.
Things got off to a terrible start for Minnesota, as they allowed 21 points in the first quarter of play. This was largely the result of poor special teams play. On the opening kickoff, Northwestern's Venric Marc got his return all the way to the Northwestern 46-yard line, and the Wildcats put the ball into the end zone on a 7-yard pass from Dan Persa to Kain Colter to give themselves a 7-0 lead.
The Gophers answered back on their first drive, marching downfield in seven plays, capping things with a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback MarQueis Gray to tie the score at seven. However, on the next kickoff, Marc outdid himself, returning the ball into Gopher territory at the 43. Northwestern once again took advantage of the short field, getting into the end zone with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Persa to Demetrius Fields to go ahead 14-7.
On their next possession, the Gophers went three and out, and the resulting punt from Dan Orseske. . .with the wind at his back, mind you. . .traveled nine yards, giving Northwestern the ball at the 38-yard line of Minnesota. Nine plays later, Northwestern was in the end zone again, thanks to a 2-yard touchdown run by Treyvon Green, giving the Wildcats a 21-7 lead.
There wasn't a whole lot of scoring action after that. The Gophers got a 28-yard field goal by Jordan Wettstein in the second quarter to cut the score to 21-10, and the Gophers actually held the Wildcats off the scoreboard until the fourth quarter, when Northwestern took advantage of a MarQueis Gray interception. They drove 80 yards for a touchdown, capping the drive with a 1-yard scoring run from Jacob Schmidt to make the score 28-10. Wettstein added another field goal in the fourth quarter, this one from 48 yards, to provide the final score.
Gray did not have a great day throwing the football, completing just 9-of-21 attempts for 124 yards and an interception. He had a great day running the ball, however, as he had 26 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown. Duane Bennett also had a nice day on the ground, toting the rock 23 times for 127 yards, but had a costly fumble at the Northwestern 25-yard line on the first drive of the second half. Gray's interception also came at a costly time, as it came on a pass intended for Brandon Green in the end zone.
The Gophers actually had more yardage on the afternoon than the Wildcats did, outgaining Northwestern 393 to 368, including rushing for 269 yards. However, they couldn't punch the ball into the end zone enough times in this one, and they allowed Northwestern to get the victory. The win makes Northwestern bowl eligible for the fifth consecutive season.
The Gophers will finish their 2011 season at TCF Bank Stadium next Saturday afternoon when they host the Illinois Fighting Illini.