Gophers squeak by Jackrabbits

Minnesota forced five fumbles but scored zero offensive touchdowns in the game.

Gophers squeak by Jackrabbits

Marco LaNave

SaturdayâÄôs football game between Minnesota and South Dakota State was a perfect introduction to the concept that winning âÄî or losing âÄî isnâÄôt always pretty. The Gophers and Jackrabbits slogged through a contest on a cloudy Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, and Minnesota emerged with bowl eligibility after a 16-13 victory. Style points wouldnâÄôt have made the score much different, as the two teams combined for 460 total yards âÄî an average of 3.4 yards per play âÄî and zero offensive touchdowns. Nevertheless, Minnesota (6-5 overall, 3-4 Big Ten) became bowl eligible for the ninth time in 11 years and the second consecutive year under head coach Tim Brewster. âÄú[IâÄôm] pleased for our football team to have won their sixth game,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúAm I pleased about everything about how the game was played? Certainly IâÄôm not. But again, we found a way to win the football game, and thatâÄôs always a plus for your football team.âÄù The Gophers havenâÄôt played in a game that had no offensive touchdowns since before the 1964 season, the earliest that game-by-game records were available. Junior kicker Eric Ellestad made a 25-yard field goal âÄî his third of the game and second game-winning kick of the season âÄî with 2:22 to play. The eventual game winner was set up by the JackrabbitsâÄô fifth fumble and the second lost by redshirt freshman quarterback Thomas OâÄôBrien. Gophers senior defensive end Cedric McKinley recovered his third fumble of the season at the SDSU 11-yard line. The Gophers settled for three field goals in as many red-zone possessions. Minnesota drove inside the SDSU 10-yard line on back-to-back first-quarter possessions and couldnâÄôt score on six plays with goal to go. Ellestad made a pair of field goals for a 6-0 lead. After that, the offense amassed just 124 yards and eight first downs. The Gophers converted three of 16 third-down chances, their worst rate of the season outside of a 1-of-10 performance at Ohio State on Oct. 24. âÄúWe were moving it pretty easily âĦ Maybe we got satisfied âĦ One guy would miss something here and another guy would miss something here, and it seemed like the rest of the time we were off rhythm,âÄù junior center D.J. Burris said. For the second week in a row, junior quarterback Adam Weber threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, and he completed fewer than half of his passes for the fourth time in five games. He has been sacked 11 times the last two weeks. âÄúItâÄôs frustrating when youâÄôre not having your best game and then youâÄôre not able to help the team out by putting up some points when we need them,âÄù said Weber, who completed his first four pass attempts but finished 10-of-21 for 94 yards, his second-lowest total of the season. Redshirt freshman running back Kevin Whaley rushed for 48 yards in the first half but had just 8 yards on four carries after a second-quarter fumble. Fortunately for the Gophers, though, the JackrabbitsâÄô offense was just as impotent. They had 229 total yards âÄî the fewest by a Gophers opponent this season âÄî committed four turnovers and converted three of 16 third-down chances, which had been a struggle for the Minnesota defense all season. While the GophersâÄô offense struggled, the defense intercepted two passes before allowing a completion and turned away the JackrabbitsâÄô best scoring chances. âÄúItâÄôs a team effort for a reason, and today I think we showed that,âÄù senior linebacker Lee Campbell said. âÄúI think we handled adversity well.âÄù When SDSU started a drive from the Minnesota 6-yard line in the first quarter, senior linebacker Simoni Lawrence made his first interception of the season. He later made a tackle on third and goal that forced a Jackrabbits field goal early in the second quarter. After Weber was intercepted by Jackrabbits junior linebacker Derek Domino for a touchdown that gave SDSU a 10-6 second-quarter lead, it was the Gophers defense that answered. True freshman cornerback Michael Carter sacked OâÄôBrien at the JackrabbitsâÄô 3-yard line. The ball popped up for redshirt freshman defensive end D.L. Wilhite , who caught it and ran in for a touchdown that gave Minnesota a 13-10 lead with 9:04 remaining in the first half. In the next 30 minutes of play, the Jackrabbits missed two potential game-tying field goals. Sophomore kicker Kyle Harris missed a 49-yard attempt on the final play before halftime. Junior kicker Peter Reifenrath then missed a 25-yard attempt wide left midway through the third quarter. Both misses came at the open end of the stadium, where Ellestad, who missed a 41-yard attempt but made three others on the same side, said the wind is unpredictable. âÄúThe wind could be going left to right one second and then next second, it could be going right to left,âÄù Ellestad said. Reifenrath made a 34-yard game-tying kick with 8:27 to play, but his earlier short miss was the margin of victory for Minnesota. âÄúAll of us kickers feel bad for each other if we miss something, because weâÄôve all been there,âÄù Ellestad said. âÄúWeâÄôve all missed one; itâÄôs just not a good feeling.âÄù The feelings were mixed for Weber after SaturdayâÄôs win. Two years removed from a 1-11 season, he said he realizes wins are special, but he said the victory was bittersweet for a struggling offense. âÄúWe realize that we canâÄôt play the way we have; thatâÄôs how weâÄôre going to lose football games,âÄù Weber said. âÄúPersonally, and as a leader on the offense, [it was an] unacceptable game by us, but I guess we did enough, which doesnâÄôt feel very good now, but itâÄôs a W.âÄù