Fleck victorious in first game as head coach with win over Buffalo

Quarterbacks Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft combined for 239 passing yards and one touchdown.

Quarterback Demry Croft hands the ball to running back Rodney Smith at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. The Gophers beat Buffalo 17-7.

Easton Green

Quarterback Demry Croft hands the ball to running back Rodney Smith at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. The Gophers beat Buffalo 17-7.

by Jack Warrick

Shannon Brooks’ 1-yard touchdown with under a minute left in the first quarter proved to be the dagger Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium.

That score gave the Gophers a one-touchdown lead, and Minnesota added a field goal later on to make it 17-7, giving head coach P.J. Fleck a win in his first game as the Gophers new head coach.

“It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to see,” Fleck said. “That doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me [is] they found a way to win.”

Fleck played both Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft at quarterback Thursday night. Rhoda played more than Croft and completed 12-21 passes with 176 yards with no rushing yards. Croft went 7-11 with 63 passing yards and 32 rushing.

The Gophers defense held Buffalo to seven points. They allowed one receiving touchdown and 211 passing yards with 51 yards on the ground.

Defensive back Antonio Shenault led the Gophers defense with 10 tackles.

“Our defense was playing phenomenal,” Fleck said. “They kept us in the game.”

Wide receiver Tyler Johnson helped the Gophers earn the victory with his breakout performance.

Johnson matched his stats in the first game of his sophomore year on Thursday night with exactly 141 yards and a touchdown.

“I would say I’m very comfortable,” Johnson said. “I have a good understanding about what I need to do, what release I need to do, what break point I need to make coming off of the line and things like that.”

On the second drive for the Gophers, Rhoda threw a deep ball to Johnson for a 61-yard touchdown and the first score of the game. 

“[Johnson] comes to play when the lights are on,” Rhoda said. “He’s just a gamer, a smart kid, comes to work every day and he’s gotten a ton better since he first got here.”

Running backs Rodney Smith and Brooks were expected to carry the Gophers but were limited against the Bulls. Smith had 77 yards and Brooks was held to 71.

Last year, the Gophers put up 183.6 yards per game rushing and 173.6 yards per game in receiving. This game, the Gophers rushed for 169 yards and passed for 239.

Both kickers missed two field goals each. 

Buffalo’s kicker, Adam Mitcheson, missed a 40-yard kick in the first quarter that would have put them on the board. In the second quarter, he had a kick blocked that would have put his team ahead.

Minnesota kicker Emmit Carpenter missed a 50-yard kick and a 36-yard kick before sealing the victory for the Gophers with a 43-yard field goal near the end of the fourth quarter.

“He had to come in to seal the game with 1:40 left from 40 yards,” Fleck said. “It just shows his resiliency and response. You can see the culture working inside him.”

The 6-foot-7-inch, 245-pound Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson put up 211 passing yards and kept the Bulls within two possessions of the Gophers for the whole game.

“I’ve learned in my short career you never not enjoy a win,” Fleck said. “We have make sure that we continue to do all the right things.”