MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Mohamed Ibrahim rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns and Minnesota’s defense continued its dominance on Saturday as the Golden Gophers defeated Northwestern 31-3.
Ibrahim, who carried the ball 36 times, extended his streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games to 18, the longest in FBS since 2000. He also became the seventh player in Big Ten history with 50 career rushing touchdowns.
Thanks in large part to the play of Ibrahim and the offensive line, the Gophers were able to control the ball for 40 minutes and 22 seconds, their fourth game with more than 40 minutes of possession this season.
“Our style of football is to run the ball. Time management is what we pride ourselves on,” Ibrahim said. “We got up, and we understood that we wanted to run the clock out, and that’s what we do best.”
The Gophers (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) entered the game with the No. 4-scoring defense in the country, allowing just 14.2 points per game. That average dipped further after they kept the Wildcats (1-9, 1-6) out of the end zone for the first time all season.
On the second play of the second half, Gophers defensive back Tyler Nubin intercepted a pass from backup quarterback Ryan Hilinski. Minnesota turned that into a 41-yard field goal by Matthew Trickett and a 17-3 lead.
Ibrahim’s 1-yard plunge on the first play of the fourth quarter made it 24-3. It was Ibrahim’s 18th rushing touchdown of the season, tying the school record set by Gary Russell in 2005.
The Wildcats crossed the 50-yard line just twice in the first half. Midway through the first, they advanced to the Gophers 16 before Jordan Howden and Terrell Smith teamed to stuff Evan Hull on fourth and 1.
“That was huge,” Nubin said. “It gave us a bunch of energy. Just seeing those guys flying around, it makes everyone else want to fly around too. That was a big boost for us.”
Later, the Gophers appeared poised to head into the locker room with a 14-0 halftime lead, as a punt pinned Northwestern at its own 7-yard line with 2:08 to play. But two passes later, the Wildcats were in field goal position.
First, starter Brendan Sullivan hit Malik Washington for 27 yards. Sullivan was injured on the play, but Hilinski followed with a 49-yard hookup with Washington to give Northwestern the ball at the Minnesota 17.
The Gophers defense then forced three straight incompletions, leading to Adam Stage’s 35-yard field goal to get Northwestern on the board.
Northwestern turned it over on downs again midway through the third quarter, as Hilinski threw a swing pass just out of Hull’s reach on fourth and 1 at Minnesota’s 41.
On the day, the Wildcats were successful on just 3 of 12 third-down conversions and went 0-for-3 on fourth down.
“Our inability to be successful and sustain drives on third downs led to our defense being on the field too long,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Credit to their defense, though. They’ve been playing really well on defense all year. Today was no different.”
LOOKING FOR BALANCE
The Gophers didn’t ask freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis, making his first home start in place of the injured Tanner Morgan, to do much. He was 7-for-13 passing for 64 yards and rushed four times for 28 yards.
“We rushed the ball 58 times,” Fleck said. “If we have to do that, we have to do that. Would I like to be more balanced? … Absolutely. But we’ve got to make the routine plays, and we’ve got to make the routine throws.”
Kaliakmanis relieved Morgan at halftime of Minnesota’s game at Nebraska on Nov. 5, rallying the Gophers from a 10-0 deficit to a 20-13 win. He also played the entire game in Minnesota’s loss at Penn State on Oct. 22.
“He’s learning how to create his own routines, and that’s hard,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said, “but I know he’s got high standards for himself and he’ll get better.”
Injuries forced Fitzgerald to use four different quarterbacks on Saturday. Sullivan was 9-for-11 for 94 yards. Hilinski (3-for-11) and Carl Richardson (2-for-7) each threw an interception. Meanwhile, Cole Freeman went 1-for-3 on the game’s final drive.
“We had a lot of guys that probably didn’t expect to play as much as maybe they anticipated going into the game that played a ton,” Fitzgerald said, “and it’ll be great lessons learned for them.”
Northwestern: One week after giving No. 2 Ohio State all it could handle in a 21-7 loss; the Wildcats couldn’t generate enough offense to make it a game.
Minnesota: The Gophers’ path to the Big Ten West title got a boost with Illinois’ loss to Purdue. If Minnesota wins its last two games – vs. Iowa and at Wisconsin – one more loss by the Illini and Boilermakers would put the Gophers in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Northwestern: Visits Purdue on Nov. 19.
Minnesota: Hosts Iowa on Nov. 19 in its final home game of the season.
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