Minnesota goes to the ground game to beat Oregon State on the road

The Gophers had 253 rushing yards in the winning effort.

Running back Shannon Brooks runs through the open field on Thursday, Aug. 31 at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers beat Buffalo 17 to 7.

Ellen Schmidt

Running back Shannon Brooks runs through the open field on Thursday, Aug. 31 at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers beat Buffalo 17 to 7.

Drew Cove

It didn’t matter which one P.J. Fleck put in, running backs Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith were both effective.

Minnesota (2-0) ran through Oregon State (1-2) with 253 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, withstanding the rain in Corvallis, Oregon to beat the Beavers 48-14 Saturday night. 

“[I’m] very excited about the outcome of the game,” Fleck told reporters. “It’s not about the result but how we played. … They executed the game plan perfectly.”

The offense opened the floodgates in the second half, scoring 28 of the total 48 points in the third and fourth quarter.

The game depended on the runners, and with the defense that Oregon State was playing, the Gophers had their way.

Though Minnesota scored 20 points in the first half, it wasn’t until the second half that the team’s offense figured out Oregon State’s defense.

Brooks totaled 17 carries for 91 yards and had three rushing touchdowns.

“I think the story of the game, when you look at [Smith] and [Brooks] … one thing I’ll say about them is they’re very selfless,” Fleck told reporters. “These guys are really starting to come together as a football team.” 

Brooks’ counterpart, Smith, went for 92 yards on 30 attempts and one touchdown. Smith also had one reception for 22 yards, bringing his total yards to 114.

The Gophers began with the platoon system of quarterbacks between Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft, but eventually Rhoda got the bulk of the playing time after Croft fumbled a snap in the second quarter.

Minnesota also relied on its defense for the home victory. 

Three players on the Gophers defense recovered fumbles in the game, linebackers Jonathan Celestin, Kamal Martin and defensive back Kiondre Thomas.

“Jon [Celestin] was all over the field tonight,” linebacker Thomas Barber told reporters. “Jon’s always like that. Jon’s going to be Jon, and we count on a lot of things from him on defense.”

The Minnesota defense and the three fumble recoveries helped the Gophers score 17 points off turnovers.

“[As a coach,] you’re pleased,” Fleck told reporters. “I think we won the turnover margin, and I think that was the outcome of the game.”

Oregon State was held to only 35 total yards in the second half, while Minnesota’s offense piled on 28 points to secure the victory.

Minnesota’s win also saw the loss of offensive linebacker Jared Weyler to injury late in the third quarter. The solution to the problem with the hole at center was filled by Conner Olson, who moved over from right guard. 

While Weyler suffered an injury, it didn’t stop the running game. Brooks scored his third touchdown, and Croft ran for 64 yards to the end zone for the final score.

“[The offensive linemen] were awesome,” Rhoda told reporters. “They work their butts off, and I thought they played awesome tonight.”

Rhoda connected with wide receiver Tyler Johnson again early in the game, and he opened the scoring with a 67-yard touchdown.

The Gophers’ passing game was in control early, but it was the run game that took over to secure Minnesota’s victory.

“It comes down to how we play,” Fleck told reporters. “The result aside, I was very proud of their efforts.”