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October 13, 2012

A sloppy win

In a sloppy game played in sloppy conditions, Northwestern played slightly less sloppy than Minnesota in a 21-13 win that made the Wildcats bowl eligible for a school-record sixth straight season.

What started as an offensive shootout turned into an ugly snoozer in the rain, as two teams that combined for 31 points in the first 17:10 produced just three in the final 42:50.

Northwestern's offense, especially, went into the tank once the raindrops started falling in the second quarter. The Wildcats scored TDs on three of their first four possessions to bolt to a 21-10 lead with 12:50 left in the first half. After that, Northwestern's eight possessions resulted in six punts, a turnover on downs and the end of the game.

Venric Mark ran wild in the first half, with 151 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries. His epic first half included four runs over 25 yards and two over 45. In the second half, however, the speedster was limited to nine carries for 31 yards.

As a whole, the Wildcats gained 198 yards in the first half but just 77 in the second.

Minnesota's last, best chance to mount a comeback came late in the fourth quarter. The Gophers drove to the Northwestern 4-yard line, but quarterback Max Shortell fumbled a snap and then threw two incompletions to end the threat.

The Gophers got the ball back one last time with 1:17 left, but Shortell was sacked twice. The second one, by Tyler Scott, resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Quentin Williams at the Minnesota 41 to ice the Wildcats' victory.

Northwestern (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) was led by Mark's career-high 182 yards rushing.

Kain Colter, who got the majority of snaps at quarterback, finished 10-of-10 passing for 63 yards. He added 26 yards rushing on 10 carries. Trevor Siemian, who had received the lion's share of playing time last week against Penn State, was just 1-of-7 passing for four yards.

Shortell was 9-of-19 passing for 103 yards for the Gophers (4-2, 0-2). MarQueis Gray, getting his first action since Sept. 15, was 7-for-11 for 66 yards and one interception through the air, and he ran for a team-high 86 yards.

Minnesota suffered three turnovers -- two lost fumbles and an interception -- while the Wildcats did not lose the ball once.

Northwestern got off to a quick start as Minnesota's Lamonte Edwards fumbled the opening kickoff and C.J. Bryant recovered the loose ball at the Minnesota 26. On the Wildcats' first snap from scrimmage, Mark ran untouched into the end zone from the left side for a 7-0 lead just 11 seconds into the game.

Minnesota answered with a 31-yard field goal by Jordan Wettstein to pull the Gophers within 7-3, but Mark got loose again for a 47-yard run to the Minnesota 13 on Northwestern's second possession. Kain Colter capped that drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.

Gray replaced Shortell at quarterback on Minnesota's next drive and scored on a 25-yard run up the middle to bring Minnesota to within 14-10.

After a Northwestern three-and-out, Northwestern's Quentin Williams tipped Gray's pass and David Nwabuisi intercepted it at the NU 43. Mark went 48 yards up the middle two plays later for the Wildcats' final score.

Northwestern (11) and Minnesota (9) combined for 20 penalties for 173 yards in the contest.



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