MINNEAPOLIS — The effort expended into a 97-yard, game-tying drive for Northwestern was undone in about 10 seconds.
Jalen Myrick returned a kickoff 100 yards to atone for a penalty on the previous drive and help Minnesota defeat Northwestern, 24-17, on Saturday.
After Northwestern (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten) drove nearly the length of the field to tie the game at 17 midway through the fourth quarter, Myrick raced through a big hole on the left side and out-ran the Wildcats down the sideline for the winning score.
"We met on Monday to discuss the importance of special teams," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "I think I was right. Obviously, we failed as coaches to get our guys ready."
Mitch Leidner was 10 for 15 for 153 yards and ran for two touchdowns and David Cobb added 97 yards rushing on 30 carries for the Golden Gophers (5-1, 2-0), who didn't lose any momentum during the bye week after a convincing win at Michigan.
After opening conference play with a win at Penn State and then upsetting Wisconsin last week, the Wildcats had a chance to start 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2000.
"Of course it's a huge bummer to end this streak," cornerback Nick VanHoose said. "Last year, we didn't win a Big Ten game until our last game, which was completely unacceptable. Going into Big Ten play this year, we've had a better mindset to go in and have a real shot to win a Big Ten championship."
Wildcats running back Justin Jackson, a true freshman, rushed for 106 yards and Trevor Siemian completed 32 of 50 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for another score, but also threw a game-ending interception while trying to rally the Wildcats after Myrick's electrifying return.
The Wildcats outgained the Gophers 393-274, but managed just 17 points off 84 plays in a game that didn't provide anything flashy between two throwback offenses that prefer to grind games out on the ground and avoid costly mistakes in the passing game.
"We knew that's what we were going to get," Fitzgerald said. "We tried to create some schemes to get some guys open: back shoulder things that were dropped, missed go-route for a touchdown, had a double move called back because of illegal formation, want me to keep going?"
Siemian's rushing touchdown capped off a game-tying drive that started at Northwestern's 3-yard line. The Wildcats took advantage of a pass interference call on Myrick and two personal fouls to move to the Gophers' 2-yard line. On third-and-goal from the Minnesota 10, Siemian threw incomplete, but the drive was extended by a roughing the passer call on Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Gophers coach Jerry Kill was also penalized on the play for unsportsmanlike conduct after he slammed his clipboard to the turf and yelled at the officials.
Northwestern couldn't cover the ensuing kick, which led to the Gophers' game-winning touchdown from Myrick.
"It was set up perfectly," Myrick said. "As soon as I caught it, I looked to the left to make sure everything was cool. The hole was so open, there was (no option) but to go that way. Once I hit it, it went for a touchdown."
Jackson was a bright spot for the Wildcats, who entered Saturday with the second-worst yards per carry average (3.3) in the Big Ten. In the past two games, Jackson has racked up 268 of his 396 rushing yards this season — averaging 4.8 yards per carry in that span.
Jackson added four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown reception, but was limited to just two touches in Northwestern's final three drives with the Wildcats playing catch-up.
"Some plays we played well (enough) to win," Jackson said. "Other times we shot ourselves in the foot. It's what had us losing the beginning of the season. We have to correct that as we play a great team, Nebraska."
Northwestern hosts Nebraska (5-1, 1-1) for their annual homecoming on Oct. 18.
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