Gophers improve to 4-0 with a 43-17 Big Ten win

The Minnesota Gophers continued to get outstanding play from their running backs and got a strong showing from their defense as they improved to 4-0 with a 43-17 win over Northwestern in the Big Ten opener. The Gophers gained 251 yards on the ground and dominated the time of posssesion, holding the ball for 34:42.

Laurence Maroney rushed for 145 yards on 24 carries and Marion Barber III had 86 yards on 22 attempts. The duo got help from fullback Justin Valentine, who scored three touchdowns.

Northwestern got the ball after the Gophers went three and out on their first position when quarterback Bryan Cupito fail to connect on two long passes. The Wildcats made several big runs, but their drive stalled, forcing them to kick a field goal to go up 3-0.

Maroney capped off a six-play, 80-yard drive with a 50-yard score. The Gophers went up up 14-3 when Valentine caught a 3-yard pass from Cupito.

Northwestern pulled to 14-10 on the ensuing kickoff when Jeff Backes returned it 97 yards for a score.

However, the Gophers used their ground game on a seven-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a Valentine 4-yard touchdown run. The Gopher defense forced a three-and-out drive and Cupito completed a 50-yard touchdown pass to Paris Hamilton.

Terrance Campbell intercepted a Northwestern pass at the 12-yard line. Valentine scored on a 1-yard run to give Minnesota a 33-10 lead at halftime.

Brett Basanez capped a 65-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown scramble to cut the lead to 33-17. Rhys Lloyd, who previously had two extra points blocked, kicked a 46-yard field goal with 5:37 left in the third quarter to put Minnesota ahead 36-17.

The Gophers utilizied their rushing attack to keep the ball and burn the clock on a 87-yard drive that lasted 19 plays on a drive that took over 10 minutes. Barber connected on a 21-yard touchdown option pass to Jared Ellerson to complete the scoring.

Cupito was 12-of-21 for 155 yards and two scores. Matt Spaeth led the Gopher receivers with 72 yards on five receptions.

Noah Herron was Northwestern's leading rusher with 78 yards on 11 carries while Basanez finished 13-of-26 for 121 yards. Nick Roach and Tim McGarigle led all tacklers with nine stops apiece.

Minnesota hosts Penn State next Saturday at 7 p.m.

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