- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Before he stepped to the podium for his postgame press conference, Minnesota cornerback and kick returner Jalen Myrick stood in a corner of the room, primping his hair to make sure it looked just right.

The outgoing sophomore speed demon has been waiting for a moment like this, and he earned it.

Myrick returned a kickoff 100 yards in the fourth quarter to atone for a penalty on the previous drive and lift Minnesota to a 24-17 victory over Northwestern on Saturday.

Myrick finished second in the 100 meters as a junior at Savannah Christian Prep, and that blazing speed served him well at the game’s crucial moment.

After Northwestern (3-3, 2-1) drove 97 yards to tie the game at 17 midway through the fourth quarter, Myrick raced through a big hole on the left side and out-ran the Wildcats down the sideline for the winning score.

“I’ve been waiting two weeks,” said Myrick, who replaced the injured Marcus Jones as the team’s primary kick returner two weeks ago. “We’ve been working on that return for a long time. It felt like that was the one to break.”

Mitch Leidner was 10 for 15 for 153 yards and ran for two touchdowns and David Cobb added 97 yards rushing on 30 carries for the Golden Gophers (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten), who didn’t lose any momentum during the bye week after a convincing win at Michigan.

“It was a great comeback for the kids mentally,” coach Jerry Kill said. “They just drove down and scored and we could have just went in the tank. This team right now is finding a way to win. That’s a good thing.”

Justin Jackson rushed for 106 yards and Trevor Siemian completed 32 of 50 passes for 269 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Northwestern.

“We met on Monday to talk about the importance of special teams,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I think I was right. Obviously we failed as coaches to get our guys ready.”

There was nothing flashy about this game between two throwback offenses that prefer to grind games out on the ground and avoid costly mistakes in the passing game, until Myrick turned on the jets.

Cobb averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and Leidner rushed for 31 as well.

Leidner was just 3 for 4 in the first half, but one of those was a 52-yard completion to tight end Maxx Williams in the second quarter. That set up Leidner’s second touchdown plunge of the game to help the Gophers respond after Northwestern had tied the game 7-7 on the previous drive.

The Wildcats had two scoring drives of 16 plays in the first half and Siemian completed 5 of 9 passes for 55 yards on the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter.

The drive started at Northwestern’s 3-yard line, and the Wildcats also took advantage of a pass interference call and two personal fouls to move to the 2-yard line. On third-and-goal from the Minnesota 10, Siemian threw incomplete, but the drive was extended by a roughing the passer call on Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Kill was also penalized on the play for unsportsmanlike conduct after he slammed his headset on the turf and yelled at the officials.

Siemian dived in from the 2 on the next play, but the Wildcats couldn’t cover the ensuing kick, which kept them from improving to 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2000.

“It was set up perfectly,” Myrick said. “As soon as I caught it, I looked to the left to make sure everything was cool. The hole was so open, there was (no option) but to go that way. Once I hit it, it went for a touchdown.”

One of the biggest cheers of the day came when the Little Brown Jug was shown on the big screen, a rare appearance in Minnesota for one of the oldest trophies in college football. The Gophers won it for just the second time in 24 games when they dominated Michigan, 30-14, and they had last week off to both celebrate that victory and prepare for an important matchup against Northwestern.

The Gophers have winnable games against Purdue next week and at Illinois on Oct. 25, and this victory puts them in a nice position to challenge in the Big Ten’s West Division.

“We’re halfway up the mountain and the mountain gets a whole lot steeper,” Kill said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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