Gophers spread the wealth in big win

Seven players scored touchdowns against Indiana, and the defense scored its first TD of the season.

Brett Angel

By now, opponents of Minnesota’s football team can basically expect that the Gophers will find a way to put their share of points on the scoreboard.

Minnesota scored more than 40 points for the sixth time in 10 games this season Saturday, but the surprise was where the points came from in the Gophers’ 55-7 rout of Indiana.

Seven different Minnesota players found the end zone against the Hoosiers (1-8, 0-5), and even the defense got into the action as the 24th-ranked Gophers (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) celebrated homecoming by sending Indiana to its 12th straight road loss.

Sophomore safety John Pawielski returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown on the game’s fourth play from scrimmage, giving Minnesota a 6-0 advantage before the Big Ten’s highest-scoring offense even stepped on the field.

Indiana quarterback Graeme McFarland fumbled when Justin Fraley blitzed untouched and sacked him from behind.

“That was big because that’s what we’ve been trying to do all season – score points on defense,” said safety Eli Ward, who finished with a team-high 11 tackles.

“Coaches have really been harping on that in the past weeks, and we’ve been practicing turnover drills like the scoop-and-score.”

Minnesota’s high-octane offense took over from there. The Gophers bulldozed through Indiana’s defense for four more first-half touchdowns to enter halftime with a 34-7 lead.

By game’s end, Minnesota had accumulated 435 rushing yards – the team’s highest total in 23 years – and 527 yards of total offense.

“We’re at the point right now where we can move the ball on anybody with our line and our running backs,” Minnesota wide receiver Jared Ellerson said.

Freshman Laurence Maroney led the Gophers in rushing for the second straight week with 164 yards and a touchdown. Marion Barber III added 108 yards and his 16th score of the season.

Thomas Tapeh, backup quarterback Benji Kamrath and Ellerson also added rushing touchdowns.

“The coaches are giving the ball around, letting teams know we have more than one person (who can score),” Maroney said. “We can score with receivers, quarterbacks, running backs. Even the defense put up points.”

Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq finished the game 9-for-13 for just 66 yards passing and one touchdown – a lofted pass in the second quarter to tight end Ben Utecht. But the Gophers’ senior leader was still thrilled about his team’s performance afterward.

“I just want us to win,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “If I don’t have to throw the ball at all, that’s fine with me. This was kind of a rest game for me – I didn’t really have to do too much.”

McFarland wasn’t so lucky.

Indiana first-string quarterback Matt LoVecchio – who suffered a concussion the week before – watched from the sideline in a warm-up suit as his freshman backup struggled to find any kind of rhythm in his first career start.

McFarland completed just 12 of 30 pass attempts for 152 yards and one-hopped wide open Indiana receivers on a number of occasions.

Freshman running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the Hoosiers with 71 yards rushing. Sophomore Chris Taylor added 52 yards and a touchdown.

For the Gophers, Saturday’s victory keeps them in the running for a New Year’s Day bowl game heading into their final two regular season games.

With its confidence back intact after consecutive losses to Michigan and Michigan State, Minnesota now hopes to buck its recent trend of November losing with wins against border rivals Wisconsin and Iowa.

“We won two in a row, and we needed those two wins to get our confidence back,” Ellerson said. “I think we proved we have it back, and hopefully we can build on that for next week against Wisconsin.”