Minnesota clinches tie for Big Ten West Title with 38-22 win over Northwestern

Northwestern Wildcats (1981 - Pres)

EVANSTON—Minnesota was eager to get back on the field – and it showed.Tanner Morgan led No. 11 Minnesota to scores on its first three possessions and finished with four touchdown passes, and the Gophers bounced back from their first loss of the season with a 38-22 win over Northwestern on Saturday.The Gophers (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten, No. 10 CFP) clinched a share of the West Division title along with their first 10-win season since 2003 and sixth in the program’s 138-year history. They’ll play No. 14 Wisconsin at home next Saturday with a spot in the conference championship game at stake.Following the loss to the Hawkeyes, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said his team ”wanted to get that taste out of their mouth so bad.”

The Gophers wasted no time.

”The word of the week was `respond,’ ” Fleck said. ”We needed to, and they responded. That was a clear message from the beginning, that we had to start fast.”That’s what championship football looks like – come out of the gate and put 21 points on the board like that.”

Morgan, the Big Ten’s leading passer, was sharp following a week in the concussion protocol after absorbing back-to-back sacks by the Hawkeyes. The redshirt sophomore, listed as questionable until Saturday morning, has thrown 26 touchdown passes this season to set a school record.

”We knew we had to come out fast, come out firing,” Morgan said. ”We always talk about starting fast, accelerating in the middle and finishing strong.”Fleck said Morgan was almost his old self, despite an abbreviated week of practice.

”Got to give him credit with the limited amount of reps he had to be able to play like he did,” Fleck said. ”There were some things he was just a little off on today.”

Morgan threw three TD passes to Rashod Bateman and one to Tyler Johnson against Northwestern (2-9, 0-8). Bateman finished with 78 receiving yards and Johnson had 125, giving Minnesota its first pair of 1,000-yard receivers in season.Rodney Smith finished with 77 rushing yards to give him 1,063 for the season.Morgan zipped a 19-yard TD pass to Bateman in the corner of the end zone to end a 10-play, 56-yard drive on Minnesota’s first possession.