Disrespect the Gophers if you must for their cupcake non-conference schedule. But unbeaten Minnesota, now 2-0 in the Big Ten and 6-0 overall, might really have something special.
While their 42-17 win over Northwestern on Saturday was not the least bit surprising, it's the way the Gophers accomplished the win that was remarkable.
The Wildcats were coming off a solid defensive performance in a 20-0 loss to Ohio State. They returned to Evanston a very fired-up football team and jumped on the Gophers with their running game. Northwestern quickly built a 14-0 lead ... and this game had upset written all over it.
Not only was Northwestern running the ball, it was also playing tough defense against the Minnesota running game. Playing eight men up front, the Wildcats dared Minnesota and QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq to go to the air.
That's just what the Gophers did.
After being pinned deep in his own territory, Abdul-Khaliq sent WR Jared Ellerson deep down the right sideline. When Wildcat CB Jeff Backes tripped in his coverage, Ellerson was free and clear. Abdul-Khaliq hit him in stride and the result was a 96-yard TD pass.
After that, Minnesota's confidence grew and the Wildcats went into a complete funk. Abdul-Khaliq completed 12-of-17 passes for 331 yards and threw three more TD passes.
After the big pass to Ellerson, the running game also loosened up. Thomas Tapeh ran for 81 yards and Marion Barber added 77 yards and two touchdowns.
In short, it was just the kind of sharp performance head coach Glen Mason was hoping for prior to this week's game against Michigan. It should lead to a top performance against an old rival.
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