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November 19, 2011

Quick hitter: Cats survive, 28-13

EVANSTON-Northwestern was outplayed on the field for much of its 28-13 win over Minnesota on Saturday at Ryan Field, but the Wildcats never trailed where it counted, on the scoreboard.

Here is the two-minute drill to summarize the action:


Story of the game: Northwestern scored on its first three possessions of the first quarter and then didn't get on the scoreboard again until the fourth. The Gophers dominated much of the final three quarters but only had six points to show for it as their receivers dropped a couple potential big passes and they turned the ball over twice when threatening to score in the third quarter.


Game ball: Brian Peters recorded two huge third-quarter turnovers to help the Wildcats survive. With Northwestern clinging to a 21-10 third-quarter lead, Peters hit Minnesota running back Duane Bennett to force a fumble and then recovered it at the NU 25. Then, at the end of the quarter, with the score still 21-10 and with Minnesota driving at the NU 9, he intercepted a MarQueis Gray pass in the end zone that had been tipped by Ibraheim Campbell.


Turning point: Minnesota never got closer than 11 points, but Northwestern didn't put the game away until Jacob Schmidt scored on a 1-yard run with 11:04 left in the fourth . That capped a 15-play, 80-yard Wildcat drive that began when Peters got his pick in the end zone.


Big play: Northwestern, leading 14-7, faced a fourth-and-7 at the Minnesota 28 in the first quarter. A stiff breeze blowing in their faces would have made a field goal highly unlikely, so coach Pat Fitzgerald opted to go for it, and Dan Persa hit a wide open Demetrius Fields in the corner of the end zone to push the Wildcats' lead to 21-10.


Telling numbers: Minnesota won the battles for total yards (393-368) and time of possession (31:34 to 28:26). In the third quarter, the Gophers outgained Northwestern 147 to 22 but didn't notch a point as Peters' two turnovers killed their drives.


Surprise(s) of the day:Remember Adonis Smith? Most thought that the sophomore running back had taken up permanent residence in Fitzgerald's doghouse. Until today, that is. He finished with 10 carries for 31 yards, his most action of the season.


Topic of conversation: With the win, Northwestern is bowl eligible for the school-record fifth consecutive season and will play in a bowl for a school-record fourth straight year. With nine Big Ten teams already bowl-eligible, there are still too many variables to figure out the most likely destination.


Getting defensive: Northwestern's defense looked more like the one that was routinely shredded for big plays in October than the one that turned in two consecutive impressive performances in wins over Nebraska and Rice in November. The Gophers rushed for 269 yards on 51 carries, as Gray finished with 147 yards and Bennett 127.



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