Despite miscues, Minnesota prevails over Fresno State

The Gophers made big plays in key situations on the road to start 2-0 this season.

by Nick Jungheim

Final: Minnesota 38 – Fresno State 35

The Gophers couldn’t get out of their own way at times on Saturday night, losing three fumbles and committing seven penalties, many of which came at inopportune times. However, with their backs against the wall, quarterback Tanner Morgan tossed the game-tying touchdown to receiver Chris Autman-Bell on a fourth-and-13 in the final minute of regulation. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. then sealed a victory in double overtime with a game-saving interception.

Despite the turnovers, the offense appeared to take a step forward in week two. All four of Minnesota’s regulation touchdown drives lasted at least 10 plays and five minutes. This weekend, controlling the ball could be a key to victory as Georgia Southern ranked fifth in the FBS in average time of possession last season.

It was over when:

Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna under-threw his intended receiver on his team’s first play of double overtime, allowing the speedy Winfield to swoop in and make the decisive pick. The ending was strikingly similar to last season, when a last-minute Winfield interception clinched a 21-14 Gophers victory over Fresno State.

Key Play:

With 0:52 remaining, Minnesota stood at the Fresno State 20-yard line, down a touchdown. Tasked with converting a fourth-and-13, Morgan pump faked once before lofting a pass to the back corner of the end zone. Morgan’s intended receiver, Autman-Bell, high-pointed the football, reaching over his defender to do so, and landed with one foot in-bounds for his first collegiate touchdown.

Five Observations:

1. The Gophers are a resilient team.

In the first two games of the season, Minnesota faced fourth quarter deficits. Both times, the Gophers have escaped with victories, thanks to big plays at key moments. Against South Dakota State it was a fumble recovery by redshirt senior Winston DeLattiboudere with 8:12 remaining that swung momentum. Last week, the Autman-Bell touchdown catch and Winfield interception proved that Minnesota can make enough plays to overcome their miscues.

2. If Minnesota cleans up its mistakes, it won’t need the dramatics.

The Gophers had opportunities to put away both South Dakota State and Fresno State, and, in both games, they failed to capitalize. In the second quarter against the Bulldogs, Minnesota appeared to have forced a three-and-out, giving the ball back to the offense up 14-3. However, a facemask penalty on senior Tai’yon Devers extended the drive and Fresno State cut the lead to four points two plays later. This was just one of many costly errors the Gophers will need to eliminate if they hope to compete for a Big Ten West title.

3. Pass protection is still an issue.

The offensive line has allowed six sacks through two games, four of which came in the first half against Fresno State. For the most part, the issue has been communicating switches when faced with stunts and extra edge rushers. However, the line showed signs of improvement in the second half, not allowing a sack after the intermission.

4. Defensive stars are beginning to shine.

After the Fresno State game, Winfield was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for his effort which included four solo tackles and a sack to go with his walk-off interception. Senior Kamal Martin returned from suspension in week one to lead the Gophers with 13 tackles. Senior Carter Coughlin only recorded two tackles, presumably still battling an undisclosed lower body injury, but did manage to notch his first sack of the season against the Bulldogs.

5. Kicking concerns? Maybe not.

Heading into the season, one of Minnesota’s biggest question marks was who would replace Emmit Carpenter at kicker. In the season opener, freshman Michael Lantz got the nod but a missed extra point raised concerns. Against Fresno State, Lantz connected on all five of his extra point attempts and calmly converted his first career field goal attempt, a 37-yard game-winner in double overtime.