Quick Hitters: Minnesota gets away with a close call over Fresno State

Fresno State was a one point favorite going into Saturday night’s game.

Jack Warrick

Final: Minnesota 21, Fresno State 14

The Gophers went into the locker room on Saturday night with a 10-0 lead on Fresno State. The defense held the Bulldogs to 104 total yards in the first half, and the offense was able to get points on the board even though starting running back Rodney Smith left the game and didn’t return.

Fresno State came out in the second half and capitalized on a fumble recovery in the red zone by wide receiver Tyler Johnson to make the game much more interesting at 10-7. The Bulldogs would score again after a Minnesota field goal to take the lead 14-13 in the middle of the fourth quarter.

But quarterbacks Zack Annexstad and Seth Green went on a 10-play drive and scored what would be the deciding touchdown on a three-yard wildcat run from Green.

Defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. would seal the deal at 21-14 after an interception in the end zone when things seemed destined to go into overtime with a seemingly wide-open Fresno State tight end waiting for the ball.

It was over when:

Winfield jumped up, made the grab and kept his foot in play in the back of the end zone when he intercepted the halfback pass from Fresno State running back Josh Hokit intended for tight end Jared Rice.

Key play:

Other than Winfield’s interception, it was critical when Johnson made a leaping catch on third down for 14 yards in final scoring drive of the night to keep the drive alive. Green later ran in a three-yard touchdown to take the lead at 21-14 with 3:28 remaining in the game.

Five Observations:

1. Winfield hasn’t missed a beat

The starting safety sat out most of last season after suffering a hamstring injury in the game against Maryland, the fourth game of the season. He started to break out as a star last year, but the injury stamped that out.

Now, through the first two games he has had two flashy, highlight reel plays. Against Fresno State, it was the game-winning interception, and in the first week against New Mexico State it was his 76-yard punt return touchdown. He has five tackles in each of those two games as well.

2. The Gophers respond

In the face of a point deficit, the Gophers clutch plays in their final offensive drive to make the score 21-14. Green ran in the touchdown and then threw a two-point conversion to tight end Ko Kieft to ensure the Bulldogs couldn’t run back down the next drive and beat them with a touchdown. The defense responded by almost letting up, but shut the door in the end with an interception.

3. Seth Green proves his versatility

Green ran in two more touchdowns against Fresno, but had to do it on many more rushes. He finished with 11 rushes for 30 yards by taking the snap, faking the handoff and running straight up the middle. The Fresno State defense couldn’t seem to stop Green’s pushes into the red zone, even though they knew he was probably going to run. Green also completed the two-point conversion pass to Kieft, showing he has some kind of passing game.

4. Rashod Bateman can play

Bateman had five catches for 78 yards against Fresno State, with a long reception of 25 yards. The Gophers didn’t have much behind Johnson last year, and to have Bateman making meaningful catches and getting meaningful yards takes the pressure and the defense’s eyes off Johnson.

5. Freshmen making an impact

Against Fresno State, the starting running back was a freshman, the quarterback was a freshman and the leading receiver was a freshman. With Rodney Smith out for the rest of the season, quarterback Zack Annexstad is going to need to develop even more quickly,and freshmen running backs Bryce Williams and Mohamed Ibrahim will need to fill the gap Smith left.

On the defensive side of the ball, freshman defensive back Terell Smith had his first collegiate interception and the second-most tackles on the team with eight against the Bulldogs.