Big Ten

Northwestern moves to 5-0 with dominant win over Gophers

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Northwestern moves to 5-0 with dominant win over Gophers

On the opening week of Big Ten play, Northwestern made a statement that it has what it takes to compete for a title this season.

The Wildcats opened conference play in remarkable fashion Saturday, dominating Minnesota on both sides of the ball to score a 27-0 shutout victory at Ryan Field and improve to 5-0.

The Northwestern defense was again incredible, pitching its second shutout of the season and not allowing a touchdown for the third time in five games. Through those five games, the Cats’ defense has allowed just three touchdowns.

Though Northwestern had the benefit of playing a Minnesota offense that’s looked awful more often than not, that didn’t prevent the Cats’ defense from turning in an impressive performance, limiting the Gophers to 173 total yards, 99 through the air and 74 on the ground. The Northwestern defense forced a pair of turnovers and held Minnesota to 4-for-16 on third down.

Seven of Minnesota's drives ended in punts, three ended with turnovers on downs, one ended in an interception and another ended in a fumble.

Meanwhile, Clayton Thorson had maybe his best day yet as the Northwestern quarterback, passing for 128 yards with a 73.7-percent completion percentage. Thorson rushed for a pair of touchdowns, too. Running back Justin Jackson had another triple-digit rushing day, going for 120 yards.

The Cats had two early trips deep into Gophers territory but only came away with three points, as kicker Jack Mitchell split a pair of field-goal attempts.

But the breakout play came in the form of a 57-yard punt return by Miles Shuler that put the Cats on the Gophers’ five-yard line. That set up a five-yard Thorson touchdown run on the next play.

After halftime, Thorson pitched a deep ball to Solomon Vault, who appeared to make a spectacular one-handed catch for a touchdown. But a replay review overturned the play, and Northwestern ended that drive with a field goal.

But following a failed fourth-down attempt by Minnesota deep in Northwestern territory, the Cats engineered a clinic of a touchdown drive featuring a 31-yard Jackson run and a 16-yard Thorson throw. Thorson capped the six-play, 68-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown carry to make it 20-0.

And to add a cherry on top of the sundae, Anthony Walker picked up a Mitch Leidner fumble in the fourth quarter and scored to give Northwestern a 27-0 lead.

Northwestern is now a perfect 5-0 and will surely see its AP ranking go up after entering this game as the No. 16 team in the country. The Cats’ defense remains incredibly impressive — recording multiple shutouts in the same season for the first time since 1965 — and excepting a 41-0 blowout of an FCS opponent, Saturday marked the team’s best offensive performance of the year.

Minnesota might not be as good as folks assumed in the preseason, as the Gophers’ offense continues to struggle mightily. But even against struggling Minnesota, Northwestern continues to impress and continues to look like the best team in the Big Ten West.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.