Rhoda aided by running backs in first career start

The redshirt junior threw a touchdown pass and no interceptions.

Redshirt sophomore running back Rodney Smith carries the ball on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Gophers beat the Rams 31-24.

Maddy Fox, Daily File Photo

Redshirt sophomore running back Rodney Smith carries the ball on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Gophers beat the Rams 31-24.

by Jack White

Quarterback Conor Rhoda didn’t need to be perfect to help the Gophers earn their first Big Ten win on Saturday.

He completed seven passes for 82 yards in the victory. The performance was enough for Minnesota to defeat Maryland 31-10 in Rhoda’s debut start.

The redshirt junior filled in for the injured redshirt senior Mitch Leidner, who was out with a concussion.

“It was a great experience. The whole week in general was awesome,” Rhoda told reporters. “The team and staff did a great job of not acting like anything was different, which gave me a ton of confidence. I prepare each week to play if something does happen to [Leidner].”

Rhoda completed his first pass at end of the first quarter to sophomore Rashad Still for a 26-yard gain..

Redshirt sophomore Rodney Smith finished off the drive with an 8-yard touchdown where he spun off a tackler and cut back to the other side of the field.

Rhoda completed his first touchdown pass in the second quarter. He dropped back under pressure and completed a screen pass to Shannon Brooks. The play worked to perfection, and Brooks ran in for the 17-yard score.

“With who we were playing with upfront, we weren’t going to take any chances,” head coach Tracy Claeys told reporters.

Rhoda only threw two passes on Minnesota’s next scoring drive. The offense started with the ball on Maryland’s 20-yard line. The redshirt junior completed a 5-yard pass to senior Drew Wolitarsky and threw an incompletion. The team only moved the ball to Maryland’s 18-yard line, but the drive ended with a field goal from redshirt sophomore Emmit Carpenter.

Smith put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter when he ran for a 70-yard touchdown to make it 24-3 Minnesota. The run was the longest of his career. Rhoda did not throw a pass on the drive.

“[Smith] broke a long run for us to get another score, and we felt like the defense was playing well enough to win us the game,” Claeys said. .

Rhoda kneeled down with 27 seconds left and handed the ball to Wolitarsky. The redshirt junior completed his first victory without throwing an interception.

“He managed the game well,” Claeys said. “Works hard at it. Threw one bad ball into coverage and got away with it. Besides that, I thought he managed the game well and played well enough and gave us the opportunity to win.”