The best and worst of Northwestern came out in Minneapolis Saturday afternoon, as the WIldcats lost a sloppy 24-17 game to the Minnesota Golden Gophers. While Trevor Siemian played one of his strongest games of the year (32 for 50, 269 yards, two total touchdowns), the Northwestern offense struggled to move past dropped passes and short-sighted penalties to take advantage of opportunities.
All the while, the Northwestern defense couldn't keep up its fantastic play against Penn State and Wisconsin, and the special teams units failed to establish strong field position and gave up a late fourth quarter 100-yard kick return touchdown.
Northwestern's offense was better by all measures against Minnesota. Thanks to Siemian's strong day and solid individual performances from running back Justin Jackson (23 carries for 106 yards and two total touchdowns), and wide receivers Kyle Prater (six catches for 58 yards) and Miles Shuler (six catches for 60 yards), the Wildcats outgained, out-passed and out-rushed the Gophers. The quarterback looked sharper and quicker than ever, moving in and out of the pocket well while making several impressive passes on the run against a lackluster Minnesota secondary.
Jackson also continued the spectacular start to his freshman year as the offensive line continued to play beyond expectations. But some sloppy penalties and messy miscues undermined that excellent overall play of the unit. The Wildcats were penalized six times for 41 yards, which included ineligible receiver and illegal formation calls.
The Northwestern defense wasn't not as dominant as it was in the past two games, but still held Minnesota to 274 total yards. Linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo had a stellar day with 12 tackles, and cornerback Nick VanHoose continued a hot streak with seven tackles and an interception.
After Northwestern tied the game at 17 in the fourth quarter, 1a 00-yard kickoff return from Minnesota cornerback Jalen Myrick made the difference. Despite the length of the return, Myrick cruised for about 70 yards without a serious challenge from a Northwestern player.
The return was preceded by an impressive 13-play, 97 yard touchdown drive that ended with a Siemian keeper. The quarterback completed first-down passes to wide receivers Tony Jones, Prater, Cameron Dickerson and superback Dan Vitale before tying the game on his own with 7:19 left in the game.
Northwestern is back in Evanston on October 18th for Homecoming, facing off with the Nebraska Cornhuskers at 6:30 p.m. CST.