Run game held scoreless

Minnesota scored all its touchdowns on throws by quarterback Bryan Cupito.

Matt Perkins

NASHVILLE, TENN. ” For the first time all season, Minnesota’s football team couldn’t find the end zone on the ground Dec. 30 in the Music City Bowl.

Virginia allowed the Gophers to rush for 198 yards, but didn’t allow them to get the big running play to which they are accustomed.

A 22-yard run from Laurence Maroney in the first quarter was the longest run of the game for the Gophers, though it did seem as if the running game was there for them.

“We ran the ball pretty good, and it was tough sledding in there,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said. “But we didn’t have any of those breakouts and it didn’t look like we were going to have any.”

Maroney’s 22-yarder was the Gophers only run longer than 10 yards.

Maroney sets one last record

Laurence Maroney set Minnesota’s single-season rushing record with 1,464 yards, a record previously held by Chris Darkins in 1994.

It was the 21st time Maroney rushed for more than 100 yards, and after the game, he declared he was bound for the NFL draft in April.

So Gophers fans can look forward to Gary Russell as the featured back next season, with Amir Pinnix sharing time in the backfield.

A new kicker in town

Freshman Joel Monroe got the start as placekicker for the Gophers, replacing struggling redshirt freshman Jason Giannini.

Monroe made a 39-yard field goal in the third quarter, the only attempt for the Gophers in the game and Monroe’s first career field goal.

Giannini’s inconsistency kicking both field goals and extra points this season opened the door for Monroe.

Decisions, decisions

The Gophers weren’t afraid to take risks against Virginia, and it paid off early, only to hurt them in the end.

On fourth down from their own 15-yard line in the second quarter, Minnesota linebacker John Shevlin took a direct snap fake punt up the middle for 2 yards and the first down. That same drive ended 84 yards later when quarterback Bryan Cupito hooked up with senior Jared Ellerson for a 57-yard score.

But with the Gophers down three with just more than 40 seconds left in the game, it was another gutsy decision by Mason that sealed Minnesota’s fate.

Cupito threw a Hail Mary pass to the end zone intended for wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright only to have Virginia’s Marcus Hamilton snatch it out of Wheelwright’s grasp for a game-clinching interception.

After the game, Mason said he felt it was the right time to try to get it to one of their taller receivers.

Cupito to Wheelwright

Cupito completed two third-and-long passes to Wheelwright on the Gophers opening drive that resulted in a Justin Valentine touchdown, setting a trend for the game.

Wheelwright was Cupito’s favorite target in the game, and he ended the game with seven receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown.

And with 32 seconds left in the game, Wheelwright almost came down with catch No. 8 and a Gophers victory.

“That was exactly what we wanted to do, give Ernie the chance to go up and get it,” Cupito said. “He made a nice play on the ball, but it didn’t go our way.”

Lundy a headache for Gophers

Virginia running back Wali Lundy scored twice for the Cavaliers in the second half, with the Gophers unable to wrap him up inside the red zone.

Lundy had 16 carries for 61 yards, 40 of which came in the second half, and scored on his only two carries inside the Minnesota 20-yard line.

Nonconference win streak ends

Minnesota’s 19-game win streak in nonconference games came to an end with the 34-31 loss to Virginia.

Minnesota also won its previous three bowl games, including Music City Bowl victories in 2002 and 2004.