Quarterback Tanner Morgan dug the Gophers into a hole when he threw two interceptions in the first quarter of the senior day game against No. 22 Northwestern on Saturday.
He left the turnover woes behind him for much of the game, but a fourth quarter relapse in the form of a fumble given up by Morgan was enough to seal the Gophers loss.
"Those two plays are unacceptable, both of them are, and they killed our drives," Morgan said. "It happened in the first quarter, but after that you just got to keep going one play at a time. Can't focus on it, can't dwell on it, because then you're just going to keep making more mistakes."
Minnesota lost to the Big Ten West division-champion Northwestern 24-14 on Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers lost the turnover battle, something head coach P.J. Fleck harps on, and it led to a loss in the seniors' final game playing at home.
"If you don't turn over the ball over, you have a 78 percent chance of winning," Fleck said. "We turned the ball over three times, and they turned it over zero. That would give us basically a zero percent chance of winning that football game."
Wildcats defensive lineman Joe Gaziano strip sacked Morgan in the fourth quarter and carried it to the 17-yard line, where Morgan jumped on the 280-pound defensive end's back and managed to tackle him. They kicked a field goal and took a 24-7 lead with 7:49 left in the game.
Morgan hit receiver Tyler Johnson with a pass in the end zone at 4:32 left in the fourth to make the score 24-14. However, that was all the offense would score, and Morgan lost his second game as a starter. It was the least amount of points Minnesota scored since Ohio State on Oct. 13, when the team lost 30-14. The Gophers finished with 306 total yards of offense, and 197 passing yards.
Morgan threw four picks before Saturday, but he never threw more than one in any of the seven games he played. Morgan averaged about 37 points per game in his first three starts.
The defense often bailed Morgan out. After the first turnover, the Minnesota defense made Northwestern punt. After the fumble at the Minnesota 17-yard line, they held the Wildcats to a 29-yard field goal for a 24-7 score.
"You never want to see that. It can be frustrating, but we're always going to have our offense's back, and we expect the offense to have the defense's back," said Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman.
Cashman set a TCF Bank Stadium record with 20 total tackles on his final day playing in the stadium. He set up the first Gophers' score when he sacked Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson on fourth down for a 14-yard loss, giving the offense the ball at the Minnesota 38-yard line midway through the second quarter.
Morgan threw back-to-back interceptions to the same player, linebacker Nate Hall, in the first quarter of the game. The second resulted in a touchdown as Hall picked Morgan off at the Minnesota 45-yard line.
"I'd be lying to you if I said it didn't come into your mind, because you only have two quarterbacks," Fleck said about if he thought about putting other quarterback Zack Annexstad in. "Again, if (Morgan) didn't respond well, probably. But, I thought he responded really well."
The Gophers will play their final game of the regular season against Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Minnesota needs to win to ensure a bowl game berth.
"As I walked off the field, [I] kind of grabbed some of the seniors and I just looked back at the stadium knowing that it was my last time ever putting on the maroon and gold [there]," Cashman said of his last moments at TCF Bank Stadium as a player. " [I] was kind of overwhelmed with emotions, and also part of that was just from frustration, from not getting the win today and bowl eligibility."