Gophers fall behind early and drop opener

Brian Deutsch

Since being hired last winter, Minnesota football coach Tim Brewster has been rallying the state of Minnesota to get excited for Minnesota football, but at kickoff Saturday night, the Gophers were the ones that came out flat.

For the first time in six years, Minnesota was defeated in its season opener, losing to Bowling Green 32-31 in overtime.

The Gophers (0-1 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) struggled throughout the first half on both sides of the ball.

Defensively, Minnesota’s 3-3-5 base formation put neither pressure on Falcon’s quarterback Tyler Sheehan nor enough men in the secondary to break up the sophomore’s passes.

Offensively, Minnesota struggled to keep the pressure on Bowling Green after making big plays.

Already trailing 14-0 late in the first quarter, the Minnesota offense showed signs of life after senior Amir Pinnix brought the Gophers into the red zone for the first time with a career-long 58-yard carry.

But on the next play, redshirt freshman quarterback Adam Weber gave the ball back to the Falcons, fumbling the snap on the Bowling Green 14-yard line.

The Falcons (1-0, 0-0 Mid-American Conference) would add another touchdown late in the second quarter to make the score 21-0 going into the half.

“It’s not how you want to start a game, especially a season opener with so many expectations,” Weber said. “It’s a little hard to swallow.”

However, a different Minnesota team returned to the field for the second half. Gone was the defense that had been picked apart all game. Gone was the offense that hadn’t owned a drive with more than one first down all game.

“We came out in the second half and basically we were a different team Ö we made some changes, and it really paid off,” senior linebacker Mike Sherels said. “It showed that we had the ability as an offense and a defense to adjust on the fly.”

The second half saw a more efficient offense as the Gophers were able to march 75 yards down the field on their second offensive drive of the half, with a four-yard Pinnix run, to cap off the drive for Minnesota’s first touchdown of the season.

The Gophers found repeat success on their next three possessions with a 13-yard touchdown reception from senior wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright, a four-yard touchdown catch from Pinnix and a 33-yard field goal from junior Jason Giannini.

While the offense had taken a 24-21 lead with just 2:12 left in the game, Minnesota’s defense kept Bowling Green off the scoreboard for almost the entire second half until junior kicker Sinisa Vrivilo booted a 35-yard field goal to tie the game with three seconds left.

After an unsuccessful Hail Mary ended regulation, Pinnix recorded his third touchdown of the game on a 23-yard carry in overtime.

After Giannini kicked his fourth extra point of the game, the Gophers needed to stall one more drive for the win.

But Sheehan needed just two plays to find the end zone for his second passing touchdown of the game.

Instead of kicking the point after, Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon took a chance by keeping his offense on the field for the two-point conversion and the win.

The gamble paid off as Sheehan found sophomore wide out Fred Barnes in the corner of the end zone for the win.

But the end result, although disheartening for the Gophers, didn’t sway Brewster’s feelings about Minnesota’s second-half performance.

“There is one thing you can’t coach, that’s having character and heart. The way these guys played in the second half shows they have it,” Brewster said. “We’re going to build this team, game by game.”