On paper, this could have been the poster-child for a ‘trap game’ for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Despite some sloppy play from the Gophers near the end of the first half, it didn’t end with a shocking upset.
The No. 10 Gophers beat Northwestern 38-22 in Evanston, Ill. on Saturday for the team’s 10th victory this season.
The potential for a trap game was set up perfectly prior to Saturday’s matchup: Northwestern was winless in the Big Ten and coming off a confidence-boosting nonconference victory the last week. Minnesota, on the other hand, suffered its first loss at the hands of Iowa and could have overlooked the undeniably inferior opponent to the potential Big Ten West-deciding game against Wisconsin the following week.
Instead, Minnesota dominated from the start in the first quarter through the air, while the rushing game struggled. In the second half, the rushing game took over and began to complement the pass with some first-down gains.
Yet again, the story was the wide receivers for the Gophers. Sophomore Rashod Bateman had three touchdown receptions, two in the first half and one early in the second. Senior Tyler Johnson had one touchdown reception late in the game. Both Bateman and Johnson were the top targets through the air in the game. With the duo’s efforts, they both crossed the 1,000-yard mark on the season.
Both players finished the game with seven catches, but Johnson tallied 125 yards and Bateman had 78.
Bateman became the sixth Gophers receiver to cross that mark, while Johnson became the first Minnesota receiver to garner 1,000 receiving yards in a season twice in his career on this play:
The man throwing those yards and touchdowns was Tanner Morgan, who was announced the starter on Saturday after going through concussion protocol through the week after he went down with injury late in the game against Iowa.
He was on his game early on, leading the Gophers to a 21-0 lead through the beginning of the second quarter, with two touchdown passes to Bateman.
Minnesota didn’t roll through the game unscathed, though. The early lead faded before the half to 21-9 after Morgan through a pass that was ruled intentional grounding while he was in the end zone for a safety. Later on, Northwestern backup quarterback Andrew Marty came in in place of injured Hunter Johnson, who started the game, and threw a touchdown pass for another seven points.
Eventually, Minnesota allowed just two more touchdowns, one late with the score out of reach, as the Gophers running game settled in with the passing game. Rodney Smith finished second in rushing with 77 yards on the ground, which helped elevate him to become only the second rusher in program history to have more than 4,000 yards in his career, behind only Darrell Thompson.
Depending on if Wisconsin beats Purdue later on Saturday, the Gophers could face off against the Badgers for Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the Big Ten West title.