Big Ten

Northwestern squanders opportunities in loss to Gophers

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Northwestern squanders opportunities in loss to Gophers

There were numerous chances for Northwestern to produce a different result Saturday in the Twin Cities, but the Wildcats couldn't capitalize on any of them.

Northwestern missed a field goal, failed on a pair of two-point conversion attempts and was stopped in a pair of fourth-and-one situations inside the 16-yard line in a 29-12 loss to Minnesota.

The loss dropped the Cats to 5-6 overall and means next weekend's regular-season finale against Illinois is a must-win if Northwestern wants to go bowling this postseason.

The Gophers scored on their first drive, Rodney Smith rushing in from five yards out, but they missed the extra point to take just a 6-0 lead. The mistakes started piling up for the Cats early. Clayton Thorson was sacked and fumbled the ball away. Minnesota didn't do anything with the turnover, but when Northwestern made it all the way down to the 27-yard line on its next possession, Jack Mitchell missed his field-goal attempt.

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner threw an interception in the early moments of the second quarter, but the Cats couldn't turn that into points. After Minnesota added a field goal, Northwestern marched to the 16-yard line, only for Justin Jackson to get stopped on a fourth-and-one rushing attempt. Two plays into the next Northwestern drive, Thorson was sacked and fumbled again, this time Minnesota turning a turnover into points with a field goal to take a 12-0 lead into halftime.

Another Gophers field goal opened the second-half scoring. The Cats responded with another long drive, this one going 75 yards and ending in a Jackson touchdown rush. But Pat Fitzgerald elected to go for two with his team trailing by just nine in the third quarter. Jackson was gobbled up, the two-point try unsuccessful.

Northwestern then got a golden opportunity when Anthony Walker Jr. ripped the ball out of the hands of Minnesota kick returner Jalen Myrick, setting his offense up at the 22-yard line. But the Cats got nothing out of the deal, stopped four plays later on another fourth and one from the 13 when Thorson's pass fell incomplete.

Northwestern went three and out with good field position on its ensuing drive before Minnesota reached the end zone again, Drew Wolitarsky taking a pitch pass form Leidner in to cap an 80-yard drive. The Cats answered with a 78-yard drive of their own, one culminating in a Thorson scoring pass to Flynn Nagel. But again a two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, and the score remained a 10-point game.

And when Mitchell's onside-kick attempt bounced right into the hands of a Golden Gopher, the ball was returned to the Northwestern 15-yard line, Leidner rushing in for a game-sealing touchdown two plays later.

The Cats out-gained the Gophers, 339-328, had six more first downs, won the time-of-possession battle and only committed three penalties, but the missed opportunities in scoring territory buried Northwestern on Saturday.

Jackson gained 90 yards on 22 carries. The two-headed rushing monster for Minnesota of Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith combined for 105 yards on 30 carries. Thorson completed 28 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown. Austin Carr had 68 receiving yards but departed the game in the second half after being on the receiving end of a helmet-to-helmet hit that resulted in a targeting ejection for the Minnesota defender, the team's seventh such ejection of the season.

The loss sent Northwestern to a 5-6 overall record and a 4-4 mark in conference play. As mentioned, a win is required in next weekend's rivalry game against Illinois for the Cats to reach bowl eligibility.

With the win, Minnesota moved to 8-3 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten. It's the third eight-win season in the last four campaigns for the Gophers, who had zero eight-win seasons from 2004 through 2012. Minnesota faces rival Wisconsin next weekend in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe.

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

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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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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.