Saturday's Big Ten: Minnesota maintains lead in West Division race
Evanston, Ill. — Minnesota was eager to get back on the field — and it showed.
Tanner Morgan led No. 11 Minnesota to scores on its first three possessions and finished with four touchdown passes, and the Gophers bounced back from their first loss of the season with a 38-22 win over Northwestern on Saturday.
The Gophers (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten; No. 10 CFP) clinched a share of the West Division title along with their first 10-win season since 2003 and sixth in the program’s 138-year history. They’ll play No. 14 Wisconsin at home next Saturday with a spot in the conference championship game at stake.
Following the loss to the Hawkeyes, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said his team “wanted to get that taste out of their mouth so bad.”
The Gophers wasted no time.
“The word of the week was ‘respond,’ ” Fleck said. “We needed to, and they responded. That was a clear message from the beginning, that we had to start fast.
“That’s what championship football looks like — come out of the gate and put 21 points on the board like that.”
Morgan, the Big Ten’s leading passer, was sharp following a week in the concussion protocol after absorbing back-to-back sacks by the Hawkeyes. The redshirt sophomore, listed as questionable until Saturday morning, has thrown 26 touchdown passes this season to set a school record.
“We knew we had to come out fast, come out firing,” Morgan said. “We always talk about starting fast, accelerating in the middle and finishing strong.”
Fleck said Morgan was almost his old self, despite an abbreviated week of practice.
“Got to give him credit with the limited amount of reps he had to be able to play like he did,” Fleck said. “There were some things he was just a little off on today.”
Morgan threw three TD passes to Rashod Bateman and one to Tyler Johnson against Northwestern (2-9, 0-8). Bateman finished with 78 receiving yards and Johnson had 125, giving Minnesota its first pair of 1,000-yard receivers in season.
Rodney Smith finished with 77 rushing yards to give him 1,063 for the season.
Morgan zipped a 19-yard TD pass to Bateman in the corner of the end zone to end a 10-play, 56-yard drive on Minnesota’s first possession.
After Shannon Brooks ran in from 9 yards, Morgan hit Bateman for a 10-yard TD and 21-0 lead. Bateman’s other TD catch was a 7-yarder in the third quarter.
With quarterback Aidan Smith sidelined (hand), Northwestern turned to Hunter Johnson, who hadn’t started since the season opener. Andrew Marty entered early in the second quarter after Johnson went 0 for 2 and was sacked three times.
Marty threw a TD pass to Jace James and ran for two scores.
“(Johnson) was the most healthy quarterback we had to start the game who had experience,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When Hunter went down, it was Andrew’s opportunity.
“He was pretty efficient, I’m just happy for him.”
Joe Gaziano sacked Morgan for a safety early in the second quarter to get Northwestern on the board. Gaziano added another sack to give him 29 for his career, a school record.
More Big Ten
(At) No. 14 Wisconsin 45, Purdue 24: Jonathan Taylor rushed for at least 200 yards for the 12th time in his career and Wisconsin defeated Purdue in the Badgers’ final home game of the season.
Taylor finished with 222 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries for Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2; No. 12 CFP), which extended its winning streak over the Boilermakers to 14 games. The junior has a career average of 254 yards rushing in three games against Purdue.
Jack Coan completed 15 of 19 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns against one interception for the Badgers.
With the loss, the Boilermakers (4-7, 3-5) dropped their seventh straight at Camp Randall Stadium and failed to qualify for a bowl game.
Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell finished with a career-high 289 yards passing with two scores.
(At) No. 19 Iowa 19, Illinois 10: Nate Stanley threw for 308 yards and Keith Duncan kicked four field goals to set a new Big Ten single-season mark as Iowa shut down Illinois.
The Hawkeyes also forced three turnovers against the team that came into the game leading the nation in turnover margin. But quarterback Brandon Peters was intercepted twice and lost a fourth-quarter fumble as the Fighting Illini (6-5, 4-4) saw their four-game winning streak come to an end.
Iowa (8-3, 5-3) held Illinois to its lowest point total of the season, a week after doing the same thing to Minnesota. Illinois had 198 rushing yards and held the Hawkeyes to just 79 rushing yards on 32 carries. The Illini, who had outscored opponents 79-22 in the second half in their streak coming, got into Iowa territory on three consecutive possessions in the second half, but only got a field goal.
Duncan had field goals of 23, 45, 24 and 29 yards to make it 27 this season for the conference record.
Nebraska 54, (at) Maryland 7: Nebraska ended a four-game skid and kept alive its hope of becoming bowl eligible by defeating mistake-prone Maryland behind a standout performance by quarterback Adrian Martinez.
The Cornhuskers (5-6, 3-5) took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and coasted to their first victory since Oct. 5.
With a win at home against Iowa on Friday in the regular-season finale, Nebraska will become eligible for a bowl bid for the first time since 2016.
Martinez ran for 94 yards and a score and went 16-for-25 passing for 194 yards and two touchdowns, both to JD Spielman. He was taken out in the third quarter with the score 44-0.
The defense deserves some credit, too. Maryland (3-8, 1-7) could muster only 206 yards and nine first downs in its sixth straight defeat.