Gophers fall short against No. 2 TCU

Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner runs the ball on Thursday evening at TCF Bank Stadium where the Gophers faced TCU.

Joe Sulik

Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner runs the ball on Thursday evening at TCF Bank Stadium where the Gophers faced TCU.

By Mike Hendrickson

A game marred by ill-timed fumbles ruined Minnesota’s chance at an upset Thursday night in front of a record crowd at TCF Bank Stadium, as the Gophers lost their opening game 23-17 against No. 2 ranked TCU.

“There [were] six or seven real critical plays, otherwise we have an opportunity to win,” head coach Jerry Kill said.

TCU was a heavy favorite coming into the game, but never led by more than 14 points. The Gophers held the Horned Frogs to their lowest point total since November 9, 2013, after being the only team to hold TCU to 30 points in last year’s 30-7 loss.

The Gophers offensive line struggled at times, as starting left tackle Josh Campion did not play and his replacement, Ben Lauer, nursing a knee injury himself, was removed in-game after a costly first fumble for the Gophers.

The fumble came on a missed block by Lauer, causing quarterback Mitch Leidner to be sacked by TCU defensive end Terrell Lathan and lose the ball. This gave TCU excellent field position and two short plays later a 10-0 lead following an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevone Boykin to Josh Doctson.

The Gophers were hurt by another costly fumble not long after their first one. Running back Rodrick Williams lost the ball within TCU’s 1-yard line early in the second quarter, ending the Gophers best drive up to that point.

Afterwards redshirt freshman running back Rodney Smith saw more snaps, and finished with 88 yards on 16 carries and Minnesota’s only rushing touchdown.

“Coach Kill said if in your first game you’re not nervous you’re not human,” Smith said. “I guess I’m a machine.”

TCU countered the Gophers’ running attack with a sharp one of their own, as Boykin rushed for 92 yards and running back Aaron Green added 88 of his own. The Horned Frogs finished with 203 rushing yards total.

“When you’ve got [Boykin] and you’re trying to stop the throwing game, you’re going to give up something,” Kill said. “We played well enough to win on defense. We gave 30 points up to a team that you see scoring 50 or 60. I’m not going to complain.”

The Gophers brought the game within six late in the fourth quarter, after Leidner threw a pass to wide receiver KJ Maye for a 22-yard touchdown. Minnesota unsuccessfully tried an onside kick afterwards and a final desperation drive fell short.

“No matter what was happening, we thought we were going to win that football game,” Leidner said. “Obviously sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to.”

Boykin, the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, finished the game with 246 passing yards, one touchdown and an interception.

“[Boykin] made very smart decisions,” cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun said. “Today, he was just reading his keys and he was pretty sharp today.”

One of the few miscues Boykin made on the day was an interception that came midway through the third quarter by cornerback Eric Murray. Murray also forced a fumble on Green.

Leidner finished with 197 passing yards from 19 completions out of 35 attempts, including 73 yards and a touchdown to Maye.

“We got to figure a few things out,” Kill said. “We got the skill to be a good offensive football team but we got a lot of work to do.”

The Gophers struggled to move the ball for most of the first half, but showed some new wrinkles when they did, including running some plays without a huddle.

“We were able to get some good looks from their defense that we wanted to get doing some of that no-huddle stuff,” Leidner said. “Hopefully it’s something we can keep getting better at and be able to use more often.”

The game was filled with missed opportunities for the Gophers to pull the upset, but Kill won’t miss playing against longtime friend Gary Patterson, TCU’s head coach.

After the game, Kill said Patterson told him that’s the last time they’ll ever have to play each other.

“That’s right,” Kill responded.