(21) Minnesota 42

(6-0, 2-0 Big Ten)

Northwestern 17

(2-4, 0-2 Big Ten)

Coverage: GamePlan

12:00 PM ET, October 4, 2003

Ryan Field, Evanston, IL

1 2 3 4 T
#21MINN 0 21 14 742
NW 14 3 0 017

Two long TD passes get Gophers going

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Minnesota scarcely resembled the Big Ten's highest-scoring team for much of the first half Saturday, failing to manage a single first down against lowly Northwestern for more than 21 minutes.

Asad Abdul-Khaliq

AP Photo

Abdul Khaliq aired it out long twice to Jared Ellerson.

Then the Gophers (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 Associated Press) struck suddenly, on a game-changing 96-yard bomb from Asad Abdul-Khaliq to Jared Ellerson, and didn't stop on their way to a 42-17 victory.

Abdul-Khaliq threw for three touchdowns and Marion Barber III ran for two as Minnesota improved to 6-0 (2-0 Big Ten) for the first time in 43 years heading into a Friday night matchup at home against No. 9 Michigan.

"I was very pleased with how the game turned out, but I wasn't very happy with how it started," Gophers coach Glen Mason said. "The first quarter was the worst quarter of football from my perspective I've ever been associated with as a coach. ... The positive was no one panicked, no one started pointing fingers."

The nation's third-leading rushing team produced 241 yards on the ground, 43 yards below its season average. But the passing attack keyed a big-play offense, carrying the Gophers to 572 total yards despite the slow start.

Abdul-Khaliq, the Big Ten's leader in passing efficiency, missed on four of his first five passes before finishing 12-for-17 for 331 yards. Two of his TDs came on fly patterns to Ellerson -- the school-record 96-yarder and another for 82 yards.

Barber's pair of 31-yard scoring runs, accounting for most of his 77 yards, gave him 13 TDs for the season. That tied a school record in just six games.

Minnesota had just 8 yards on its first four possessions. Backed up at the 1 and trailing 14-0 near the midway point of the second period, the Gophers appeared in danger of losing to Northwestern (2-4, 0-2) for the sixth time in eight years.

But on third down from the 4, Abdul-Khaliq dropped back into the end zone and heaved a pass down the right sideline to Ellerson, who was 15 yards behind the nearest defender after cornerback Jeff Backes tripped and fell. Ellerson's TD made it 14-7, and he said the Wildcats' attitude clearly changed with the big play.

"Yeah, you could see it in their eyes after that," he said. "They were scared. They saw we started getting on a roll."

Three minutes later Barber raced untouched around left end to tie the score. Then following an interception by Justin Fraley near midfield, the Gophers took the lead for good at 21-14 on an 8-yard pass from Abdul-Khaliq pass to Ben Utecht.

Northwestern closed to 21-17 on a 39-yard field goal by Slade Larscheid just before halftime, but Abdul-Khaliq hit Ellerson on the 82-yard play on the second play of the second half and the Wildcats never threatened again.

Barber skirted right end seven minutes later to make it 35-17. A 32-yard TD pass from Abdul-Khaliq to Aaron Hosack was the only scoring of the final quarter.

Northwestern dominated both lines in racing to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Jason Wright ran in from 12 yards out and quarterback Brett Basanez scored on a 2-yard keeper. The Wildcats were in Minnesota territory again when Basanez's pass was picked off at the 38 by Eli Ward -- a play Mason said was key because "it gave us some confidence that we could play a little defense."

After amassing 146 yards on offense and 10 first downs in the opening period, the Wildcats managed only 138 yards and five first downs the rest of the way.

Basanez was 19-for-32 for 196 yards and two interceptions. Northwestern's rushing attack averaged just 2.2 yards a carry for 76 yards.

"We got it rolling" in the first half, coach Randy Walker said. "Then we just had a couple of setbacks ... and the air came out of the balloon.

"They made some big plays, and big plays are disheartening. I felt like we gave this one away, and I think our kids felt that way."

Northwestern wide receiver Kunle Patrick caught a pass in his 40th straight game -- the longest such streak in the nation.