Minnesota defense fuels 29-12 victory over Northwestern

Northwestern wide receiver Flynn Nagel drops the ball after being tackled by Minnesota defensive back Duke McGhee during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
Stacy Bengs/AP

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota's defense delivered an overpowering performance and Mitch Leidner threw his first touchdown pass in seven weeks, guiding the Gophers to a 29-12 victory over Northwestern on Saturday.

Emmit Carpenter made three field goals, Shannon Brooks totaled 110 yards from scrimmage and Blake Cashman and Steven Richardson each had two of Minnesota's season-high seven sacks .

''We've typically gone where our offensive line has taken us,'' Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ''We have six defeats, and I'm not trying to put it squarely on their shoulders, but we've been pretty inconsistent up there.''

Leidner, playing at home for the final time, found Drew Wolitarsky from 9 yards out with 6:46 left and ran in a 12-yard score with 2:31 remaining to give the Gophers (8-3, 5-3) a cushion.

''Hey, find a way to win this thing,'' Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys said. ''Who cares how anybody has played?''

The fifth-year senior Leidner, who was intercepted once, ended a five-game streak without a touchdown pass.

''It's been long overdue,'' Wolitarsky said.

Austin Carr, the Big Ten's leading receiver, had five catches for 68 yards for the Wildcats (5-6, 4-4) before leaving the field a bit woozy from a helmet-to-helmet hit by Minnesota safety Duke McGhee. The targeting penalty, the seventh time this season a Gophers player has received the automatic ejection, helped set up Northwestern's first score.

Fitzgerald declined to discuss Carr's condition, other than to say ''he seemed to be doing well'' after the game. The Wildcats were livid at McGhee and the Gophers after that collision, and Fitzgerald gathered his entire team together during the replay review to remind them to maintain discipline and encourage them to seize the momentum.

The 4-yard touchdown run by Justin Jackson with 2:17 left in the third quarter that finished the drive and cut the lead to 15-6 didn't deter the Gophers.

''Emotions were pretty high at that point, but we're a level-headed team and we didn't let that affect us,'' said linebacker Jack Lynn, who had 1 1/2 of Minnesota's 12 tackles for loss.

Clayton Thorson threw for 276 yards and a late score, but the Wildcats were denied on fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 16 in the second quarter and fourth-and-1 at the Gophers 13 in the third quarter.

''We've just got to learn how to finish,'' wide receiver Andrew Scanlan said.

EMPTY SEATS

With a kickoff temperature of 30 degrees, including an 18-degree wind chill factor, the Gophers played in front of their smallest crowd in eight seasons at TCF Bank Stadium – an announced 38,162 fans with less than half of that figure still in the seats by the fourth quarter. Minnesota's average attendance this year was 43,814, the lowest since 2002 when the team played at the Metrodome.

THE TAKEAWAY

Northwestern: With the Thorson-to-Carr connection quiet even before the star pass-catcher departed the game, the Wildcats were uncharacteristically unproductive on offense until they entered catch-up mode late and padded their statistics.

Minnesota: Eliminated earlier in the day from Big Ten championship game contention, the Gophers can still tie for first place in the West Division by upsetting Wisconsin and having Iowa beat Nebraska. They reached the eight-win mark for the third time in four seasons, a feat not accomplished by the program since 1905.

UP NEXT

Northwestern: Hosting in-state rival Illinois on Saturday, the Wildcats need a win for bowl eligibility. They've beaten the Illini in three of the last four meetings.

Minnesota: Seeking their first victory over Wisconsin since 2003 on Saturday, the Gophers have not won at Camp Randall Stadium since 1994.

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