The mark of a winning team is consistent play in all three facets, offense, defense and special teams. Northwestern had that consistent play in their 27-0 win over Minnesota Saturday.
In a game projected to be low scoring and defense oriented Northwestern blew up the scoreboard. A 55-yard punt return from Miles Schuler brought Northwestern to the Minnesota 5-yard line and got the Wildcats offense going. Clayton Thorson completed the drive with a touchdown run, pushing the Northwestern lead 10-0 at half. After the Schuler return the game was all Northwestern.
The defense keyed into the Minnesota’s game plan – allowing 74 rushing yards, 99 passing yards in the game – and the offense exploited holes in Minnesota’s defense during the second half. Northwestern finished the game with 312 total yards and one defensive touchdown.
Justin Jackson followed up his career high 182-yard game against Ball State with 121 rushing yards Saturday. Thorson played his best game of the year so far completing 14 of his 19 passes for 128 yards and two rushing touchdown. The most impressive stat Thorson had was zero turnovers. With no turnovers and a 73.6 completion rate, Thorson played well above his freshman tag. Northwestern’s clean game helped keep Minnesota at arms length.
“That first drive, offensively, you know really set the tone for the second half,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “And to chew up that amount of time and for them to have to win with the wind was critical for the second half success.”
Minnesota learned why Northwestern is ranked the as the best team on third down in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers went four of 16 on third downs and zero for four on fourth downs.
“I know Hank and the defensive guys will be mad about the four they got,” Fitzgerald said. “You know that will be all they will be talking about tomorrow on why we didn’t get 20 for 20. That’s a big down, we work it hard.”
The most important stat during Saturday’s win was Northwestern’s 34:02 time of possession. This allowed the Wildcats’ defense to stay fresh during the game and keep Minnesota’s defense on the field. Fatigue was a factor in the second half as Jackson and the offense was able to find holes and break open many big plays.
Northwestern opened up conference play strong and will face a tough opponent in Michigan next week in Ann Harbor.
“It’s one more game next week,” Christian Jones said. “No body tries to look too far forward pass who we got next week, and we just try to win that week, really. There’s always something that comes up and there is always going to be another tough opponent, we’re in the Big Ten everybody is good. But we know we got to go out there and fight on every play, every down, every game is going to be a dog fight.”