No. 16 Northwestern trucks Minnesota
Final: No. 16 Northwestern 27, Minnesota 0
Telling stat: Mitch Leidner’s 10-of-21, 72 yards passing
Against that Northwestern defense, you had to know that it was going to be a struggle for Leidner to move the ball. That was an understatement. He was harassed by the Wildcats. Matthew Harris picked him off, and the Wildcats only allowed him to convert four third downs all game. He didn’t get anything going downfield, which was similar to what plagued the Gophers against two straight MAC schools. Northwestern, obviously, was just a little bit better than Kent State and Ohio.
Key play: Miles Shuler punt return to 5-yard line
Northwestern has been getting sparks from its special teams, defense and offense this year. On Saturday, it was the special teams’ turn to provide some life. With the Wildcats only leading 3-0 at the end of the first half, Shuler should’ve had a touchdown if not for a big-time tackle from Minnesota punter Peter Mortell. Clayton Thorson converted with a five-yard scamper to give the Cats their first score of the day. It was an offensive touchdown, but it was basically a special teams score to give Northwestern all the scoring it would need.
-Briean Boddy-Calhoun did not make trip
Minnesota was already trailing before it even got on the plane to Evanston playing without its best player. It’s not that the Wildcats were going to burn the Gophers in the passing game, but playing without Boddy-Calhoun definitely hurt a defense that needed to force turnovers to have a chance in this one. Boddy-Calhoun will not need surgery on his knee, so that’s good news for the Gophers. Still, if they want to shut down some of the B1G’s better offenses, they need him back at 100 percent.
-Solomon Vault had potential catch of the day called back
Wow, what a play that ALMOST was by the Northwestern receiver/return specialist. Vault nearly hauled in a one-handed deep ball thrown by Thorson, but it hit the ground. It was initially called a touchdown, prompting the SportsCenter Top 10 tweets. The review overturned the highlight-reel score. Still, it showed off Vault’s playmaking ability. It would’ve easily one-upped his kickoff return for a touchdown against Duke. For an offense that lacks flashy playmakers, Vault is proving to be capable.
What it means: Northwestern can win ugly against anyone
Even when the Wildcats can’t get big offensive plays, they can still dominate a team. That’s extremely beneficial to have that established in the first week of October. This team shows time and time again that they can play the field-position game and let the defense take over. Even when the Wildcats took a 13-0 lead, it felt like an insurmountable deficit for Minnesota to overcome. The nation’s best third-down defense was again stout at the moments it needed to be. If there was any question as to whether or not this smash-mouth, disciplined style would translate in B1G play, that was answered on Saturday.