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GopherIllustrated GIF Rewind 1st half: Northwestern

GopherIllustrated takes a look at Minnesota's home victory 29-12 over Northwestern through GIF's of the plays that mattered in the first half.

First quarter

Brooks bursts through the hole

Minnesota's opening drive of the game was probably the most efficient and effective opening drive we've seen from the Gophers this season. Minnesota just goes zone across the board with Nate Wozniak coming across the formation for a kick out, Garrison Wright envelopes the Northwestern defensive tackle and Vincent Calhoun is able to stay on his block long enough for Brooks to get into the second level. Tyler Moore gets a left hand on Anthony Walker, and Brooks pulls away on the sideline to get 32 yards and the Gophers are in Wildcat territory.

Still with a pretty piece of route running 

Two plays later, Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner finds Rashad Still on the outside for 19 yards and a first down. You see Still set up the Northwestern defensive back like he's going to run a post, and then he breaks back outside and Leidner gets the ball there for the gain. You'd like to see Still try and turn it up field here if he turns his head around, but it's good to see crisp route running from the Gophers receivers. 

Gophers get on the board first

This is about as well as Minnesota can run "pin and pull" here. Going left to right here, check out wide receiver Eric Carter with the down block on the safety that puts him on his heels, tight end Nate Wozniak down blocks the end into the wash, left tackle Donnell Greene cuts the defensive tackle, left guard Garrison Wright and center Tyler Moore pull around to the left where Wright takes the corner and Moore takes the backer and Rodney Smith cuts in between the pullers and he's in for a touchdown. 

Gophers get pressure early

Minnesota only rushed four and they got a sack. This is not a drill. 

I'm not entirely sure why Northwestern's left guard engages Gaelin Elmore and then decides to switch his attention to Julian Huff, leaving the center to try and get Elmore, but Clayton Thorson scrambles outside and Elmore is there to wrangle Thorsen by the ankle and Carter Coughlin is able to finush off the Northwestern quarterback for the sack. 

Also, watch Steven Richardson just swim the right guard and immediately get into the back field. 

Missed shot on crossers

Gophers go with crossing routes on third and seven, and Minnesota's passing game missed a big opportunity here. Woznak and Carter go over the top over Drew Wolitarsky dragging across the bottom, and you see that Wolitarsky has a step on the Northwestern defensive back and there is nothing but green grass ahead of Woli if he catches this. 

Leidner has plenty of time to make this throw, but just air mails it and Minnesota is forced to punt. Have to be able to make that throw next week if the Gophers are going to beat the Badgers. 

Merrick Jackson comes to play

Gophers defensive tackle Merrick Jackson played his best game as a Golden Gopher on Saturday. He's lined up across from the center here, blows him three yards into the backfield, and eats Justin Jackson at the line of scrimmage for no gain. You saw flashes from Merrick all game against this Northwestern team, and that's a very encouraging sign for the future of Minnesota's defense. 

Cashman's motor never stops

Check out Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman as he comes from his inside linebacker spot around the left edge. Left tackle is able to get a piece of him, but Cashman never slows down as he goes outside of Richardson and then nails the right arm of Thorsen to force the fumble. Steven Richardson jumps on it and Minnesota's got the ball at the 50. I'm being greedy is watching Carter Coughlin almost be able to scoop this up as if his mitts get on it before Richardson's, I think he's 50 the other way. 

Fantastic pursuit here by Cashman none the less. 

Leidner gets a gift

Minnesota is extremely lucky that all-world linebacker Anthony Walker isn't able to corral this in as it would have been 55 yards the other way for a touchdown. Walker read this the entire way and jumped the route, and even if this pass gets through, it's behind Carter making it tough for him to turn up field. If it's slightly more up field, it hits Walker in the chest and it's definitely 55 the other way then, so Minnesota catches a break here.

Wonky play design and execution

 

An odd play design on third and long here. 

Leidner takes the snap, rolls backwards five yards and to his right and then has to try and hit Wolitarsky breaking back toward the sidelines. Leidner doesn't get any help from his offensive line here as he has pressure in his face immediately, but why is Leidner going so far back? That's a 25 yard throw he has to try and complete, and just doesn't make a lot of sense to me there. 

McGhee with the big hit

I feel for the Northwestern receiver right here. He tries to make the catch up the middle and ends up leaving his fit to receive a hit at the waist line from Daletavius McGhee. McGhee breaks up the pass, and the Northwestern receiver pays the price. 

First quarter score: Minnesota 6, Northwestern 0

Second quarter

Brooks maintains balance

Minnesota goes zone right and there must be a miscommunication between right guard Vincent Calhoun and right tackle Nick Connelly because the three technique defensive tackle isn't blocked and immediately is on top of Brooks as soon as he gets the hand off, but Brooks shakes the tackle and it actually helps Brooks here as the linebacker just throws his shoulder and he can keep his momentum going forward for an extra 10 yards. 

Great piece of running by Brooks there.

Under throw leads to an interception

The one place you can't miss on play action is short, and here's the reason why. Eric Carter has a good deal of separation when Leidner lets go of the ball, but the throw is short and Leidner doesn't lead Carter (theme of throws without a great deal of anticipation) and the Northwestern defensive back is able to under cut the throw and grab the interception. 

If Leidner leads Carter here and leads him up field, this is a touchdown. 

Richardson is a bully

If you enjoy defensive line play, there's not many more things more satisfying than watch Steven Richardson at defensive tackle. He tosses the Northwestern center aside and engulfs the quarterback with a few of his teammates. You'll notice once again that Minnesota's able to get pressure with just four guys, which is a definite change from earlier in the season. Elmore has to get some credit here for his spin move at the top as well. 

Longest pass play of the season

Minnesota takes a shot on a "nine" route on a third and 13 and finally the Gophers are able to connect on a deep pass. This is about as close as you'll see Mitch Leidner "drop it in the bucket" as he puts the ball in a great spot for Rashad Still to make the play 40 yards down the field and then a Gopher receiver is able to get some YAC with it. 

Still gets away with a bit of a push off there, but if it's not called it never happened (right B1G Refs?) and Minnesota gets a 62 yard completion that puts them in the red zone. 

Numbers don't add up

Minnesota severely struggled in the red zone on Saturday, and it's hard to put that all on the offensive line.

Check out the numbers in the box here.

Minnesota has six blockers (five offensive linemen and a tight end), to eight Northwestern defenders. That means two guys are not accounted for and it puts this Gopher offense in a negative situation. Vincent Calhoun gets blown back into the lap of Smith here, and then the cavalry arrives to get the tackle for loss, but also think that if Leidner keeps, it's a touchdown on the outside of Wozniak.

Either way, Minnesota settles for a field goal and take a 9-0 lead.

Gophers get aggressive on fourth

Gophers go with Cover 0 across the board as they commit both their safeties into the box to stop on the run on fourth and short, and are successful. Linebacker Jack Lynn shoots the A gap that's left vacant with the center taking Jonathan Celestin, left guard and tackle focusing on Richardson and right guard working to the second level, so Lynn able to shoot through and get the ankles of Jackson. He delays him long enough to where Duke McGhee and Gaelin Elmore converge to stop the Wildcats on fourth down.

Richardson keeps making plays

Watch Richardson off the ball here. 

He puts a nasty move on the center that leaves him grasping at air as Richardson is by him too quickly, but luckily for Northwestern the running back is there to pick him up momentarily, until Richardson gets around him. Minnesota's got good coverage down the field that holds Thorsen in the pocket for just an extra moment, that allows Richardson to get his big left mitt on the ball, knocking it out and Julian Huff is there to save the day and jump on the ball. 

Minnesota forces another Northwestern turnover. 

Anticipation whistle 

Watch the referee on the left side of your screen blow the whistle anticipating that Carter was going to go down there, and unfortunately for him, Carter was never down. The Wildcats defensive back rolls Carter on top of himself and Carter has the mental capacity to try and extend the play, as he knows his elbow or knee never touchdown. 

If the whistle isn't blown, it's only another five yards or some, but that makes a 3rd and 11, much more manageable. 

Gophers kick another field goal and lead 12-0 at the half. 

Halftime score: Minnesota 12, Northwestern 0


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