MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- No one doubted Minnesota's offense.
Against Northwestern, the Gophers finally showed they can play
some defense, too.
Laurence Maroney had a 50-yard touchdown run and finished with
145 yards rushing, and freshman Justin Valentine had three short
TDs to lead No. 19 Minnesota over Northwestern 43-17 Saturday
As usual, Minnesota's high-powered offense was clicking. But
coach Glen Mason was quick to praise his defenders for holding
Northwestern and quarterback Brett Basanez to one offensive
"I was very critical of them after the last couple games and
tonight, I thought they played very well," Mason said. "Seven out
of 17 points don't belong to them. They didn't give up any big
Minnesota's defense allowed an average of 436.7 yards per game
in its first three wins and was ranked next-to-last in the Big Ten.
Northwestern finished with 267 total yards.
Bryan Cupito, who completed passes to eight different receivers,
threw for 155 yards and two TDs for Minnesota (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) a
week after leaving in the third quarter against Colorado State with
Marion Barber III, Minnesota's leading rusher entering the game,
had 22 carries for 86 yards and also threw a 21-yard TD pass to
Jared Ellerson with 2:59 to play.
Maroney reached 100 yards rushing for the fifth straight game.
Valentine had touchdown runs of 1 and 4 yards and also caught a
3-yard TD pass.
"It's a good start to the Big Ten season," Valentine said.
"We showed we have a complete backfield."
But the offensive stars made sure to credit the defense.
"If they play like that every time, we should be good to go,"
Basanez, who entered as the Big Ten's leading passer, went 13 of
26 for 121 yards with an interception. Northwestern's only
offensive touchdown came on his 15-yard run in which he appeared to
fumble before scoring. Basanez played the fourth quarter with a
sprained right shoulder.
Northwestern's Jeff Backes had a 97-yard kickoff return in the
first quarter for the Wildcats' only touchdown of the half.
"We were just outplayed and outcoached by a better football
team," Northwestern coach Randy Walker said.
The Wildcats (1-3, 0-1) opened the scoring with Brian Huffman's
29-yard field goal. But the lead didn't last long. On Minnesota's
ensuing drive, Maroney took a handoff up the middle, spun away from
safety Bryan Heinz and ran up the left side for a 50-yard score.
On Minnesota's next drive, Cupito completed a 24-yard pass to
tight end Matt Spaeth, who bowled over a defender and got to the
Northwestern 3-yard line. On the next play, Cupito dumped a short
pass to an uncovered Valentine for a touchdown.
Northwestern took back some momentum with Backes' impressive
return. He took the kickoff at the 3-yard line, escaped two
tackles, faked past a third defender and raced all the way to the
end zone to pull the Wildcats to 14-10.
But the Gophers scored on their first two possessions of the
second quarter to open a 27-10 lead.
Valentine scored his second touchdown on a 4-yard run at the
Cupito then found Paris Hamilton for a 50-yard TD pass that put
Minnesota up 27-10. Valentine's third touchdown, a 1-yard run with
3:52 left in the first half, put the Gophers ahead 33-10.
On the Wildcats' opening drive of the second half, Basanez led
Northwestern to Minnesota's 15-yard line. On second down, Basanez
dropped back before running. He appeared to fumble the ball out of
bounds before reaching the end zone, but the officials called it a
touchdown and didn't review the replay.
"If I was on top of my game, I would've called a timeout,"
Basanez, who came in averaging 311 yards passing per game, was
slow to get up and sat out Northwestern's next two series.
Rhys Lloyd, who had two extra-point attempts blocked, added a
46-yard field goal for Minnesota in the third quarter.