Mistakes Continue to Plague Golden Gophers

The Golden Gophers may indeed be showing signs of progress in some areas, but they're still making too many mistakes to consistently get in the win column.

That certainly was the case in Minnesota's 28-13 loss to Northwestern that dropped the Gophers to 2-9 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten. Two turnovers, two dropped passes and an abysmal performance in the kicking game led to the Gophers' third straight loss since upsetting Iowa, 22-21, on Oct. 29.

The game provided yet another lesson that coach Jerry Kill has been preaching to his players.

"I'm sure it's tough, but you have to be relentless," he said. "Life's tough and you've just got to keep battling back."

The Gophers get one more chance to do that. Minnesota needs to beat Illinois at home on Nov. 26 to match last season's 3-9 record.

Minnesota actually outgained Northwestern, but mistakes and an inability to take advantage of opportunities offensively led to another defeat. Quarterback MarQueis Gray threw an interception, running back Duane Bennett fumbled and receivers Da'Jon McKnight and Malcolm Moulton dropped potential touchdown passes.

Gray and Bennett both topped the 100-yard mark in rushing and the defense allowed only one touchdown after the first quarter, but the Gophers didn't do enough good things to win the game.

"We were able to move the ball on them," Gray said. "It was our job once we got into the red zone to finish. That was something we didn't do."

"Of course, it was frustrating," Bennett said. "I felt like on the offensive side we could have finished a little better. That is just something that I think we have to go back and figure out how we can get better and finish."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The punting game has been one of Minnesota strengths this season, but that wasn't the case against Northwestern. The Gophers averaged 24 yards on four punts and the usually reliable Dan Orseske was benched briefly after a nine-yard punt in the first quarter. He was replaced by backup David Schwerman, but his punt traveled only 22 yards and Orseske returned. Orseske punted three times for a 24.7-yard average, well below his 39.3 average going into the game.

The kickoff coverage team also allowed returns of 44 and 42 yards in the first half that led to touchdowns.

--Minnesota outgained Northwestern in total yardage, 393-368. It's only the second time this season the Gophers have finished with more total offense than their opponent.

--The Gophers recorded two sacks against Northwestern. Minnesota has 14 sacks, five more than its total of nine from the 2010 season.

KEEP AN EYE ON: QB MarQueis Gray -- He bounced back from his worst game of the season against Wisconsin with a strong all-around performance versus Northwestern. He gained 147 yards on 26 carries with one touchdown rushing. Gray completed 9-of-21 passes for 124 yards and threw an interception. He played against Wisconsin with a sore back, but appears to have overcome that injury.

LOOKING GOOD: The Gophers had no problem establishing their running game against Northwestern. Sparked by quarterback MarQueis Gray (147) and running back Duane Bennett (127), Minnesota gained 269 yards on the ground. It was the second time the Gophers have gone over 200 yards rushing this season. Minnesota ran for 236 yards against Miami (Ohio). It was the first time two Minnesota players ran for 100 yards in one game since Alex Daniels and Amir Pinnix did it against Kent State on Aug. 31, 2006.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The defense's problems in the first quarter continued against Northwestern. The Wildcats scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, which put the offense in a 21-7 hole. The defense held Northwestern to one touchdown the remainder of the game, but giving up early points has been a recurring theme the entire year. The Gophers have allowed 106 points in the first quarter this season. Two long kick returns and a nine-yard punt didn't help the cause.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's my fault. We work with the kicking game all the time and it's our responsibility to get better. I take full responsibility. It's not the kids' fault. It's my fault. We've got to do a better job of coaching." -- Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, on Minnesota's kicking game in the loss to Northwestern.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES:

S Kim Royston -- The senior had a career-best 17 tackles against Northwestern. He had 10 tackles midway through the second quarter. Royston also recorded his first interception of the season in the second quarter. He has reached double figures in tackles seven times this season.

RB Duane Bennett -- Bennett gained 127 yards on 23 carries against Northwestern for the fifth 100-yard rushing game of his career and second this season. The senior has gained 2,082 yards in his career, the 13th Minnesota running back to reach the 2,000-yard mark.

LB Mike Rallis -- The junior matched his career high with 13 tackles against Northwestern. Rallis has recorded 10 or more tackles three times this season. He also had 13 against New Mexico State this season.

K Jordan Wettstein -- Wettstein continued to excel in place of the injured Chris Hawthorne. He made both of his field goal attempts against Northwestern, including a career-best 48-yarder in the fourth quarter. Wettstein also hit a 28-yarder in the second quarter and has made all four of his attempts this season.

ROSTER REPORT

--K Chris Hawthorne has missed the last four games because of a sore quad muscle.

--CB/KR Troy Stoudermire has missed the last seven games because of a fractured left wrist.

--WR/KR Marcus Jones will miss the rest of the season because of a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament.

--OL Ryan Orton was out against Northwestern because of back spasms.

--LB Brendan Beal has missed the last four games because of a knee injury.

--OL Josh Campion is expected to miss the rest of the season because of a concussion.

--DE Harold Legania has missed the last six games because of a foot injury.

--OT Jimmy Gjere has missed the last seven games because of a concussion.

--DE Leston Simpson has missed the last six games because of a head injury.


Gopher Illustrated Top Stories