Missed chances cost Gophers

Samuel Gordon

Gophers punter Peter Mortell played some quarterback in high school.

Still, few people expected him to throw a pass on fourth-and-16 in a one-score game against the Michigan Wolverines.

Early in the third quarter, the Gophers trailed 14-7 when they passed on a 37-yard field goal attempt and put the ball — and the game — in the hands of the freshman punter.

Minnesota tried a fake field goal, and Mortell, the field-goal holder, completed a pass to quarterback Philip Nelson for five yards — 11 yards short of the first down.

Michigan drove 86 yards for another touchdown on the next possession, and the Gophers never recovered.

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill’s decision to pass on the field goal opportunity defied conventional coaching wisdom. It was one of several times Saturday that the Gophers squandered opportunities for points.

“I think it was a deal of missed opportunities,” Kill said. “Sooner or later you have got to make a play, and we couldn’t make a play today.”

Kill defended the decision to try the fake field goal.

“In this situation, a field goal there gets us to 14-10, but they’re moving the ball,” he said. “They’re a pretty good football team.”

Minnesota’s fake field goal was one of many snafus.

The Gophers advanced the ball into Michigan territory eight times in 11 possessions and walked away with just 13 points.

Minnesota failed a fourth-down try early in the game and missed a long field goal before halftime. It also had to settle for a field goal after failing to score a touchdown on a first-and-goal opportunity at Michigan’s three-yard line.

After the game, Nelson said the team’s inability to capitalize in the red-zone was “definitely a game-changer for us.”

Michigan had no problem capitalizing.

Each of the Wolverines’ three red-zone trips ended with touchdowns. Michigan kept drives alive, and talented backup quarterback Devin Gardner and his offense converted seven of 12 third downs.

“It basically had a lot to do with [Gardner] and his ability to get out of fire and scramble to make the plays,” Minnesota cornerback Troy Stoudermire said about his defense’s struggles on third down.

Penalties doomed the Gophers as well. Minnesota conceded 69 yards on nine penalties — several of which either extended Michigan drives or halted the Gophers’ momentum.

“We’ll look at the video. [The players will] see it,” Kill said. “I don’t have to be tough on them — they are going to be tough on themselves. They want to make those plays.”

Notes

—Gophers top wide receiver AJ Barker didn’t play Saturday. Barker, who injured his ankle in Minnesota’s Oct. 27 victory over Purdue, dressed for the game and took part in warm-ups before being ruled out.

—The Gophers haven’t beaten Michigan at home since 1977, and they are 3-38 in their last 41 games against the Wolverines.