Hoosier daddy? Gophers nab first Big Ten victory in ugly win over Indiana

Quarterback Tanner Morgan threw three touchdowns, 302 yards and an interception in the victory.

Quarterback Tanner Morgan prepares to pass the ball on Friday, Oct. 26 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Tony Saunders

Quarterback Tanner Morgan prepares to pass the ball on Friday, Oct. 26 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Jack Warrick

Minnesota didn’t expect the game to be tied with less than four minutes remaining, but the team pulled through in the waning minutes for the victory.

The Gophers found their first Big Ten victory of the year after an ugly fourth quarter saw Minnesota blow a 31-9 lead.

The day was made for freshman Rashod Bateman, who pulled down a 67-yard touchdown reception to put the team up 38-31. Defensive end Carter Coughlin forced a fumble on Indiana’s subsequent drive that Minnesota recovered, sealing the victory over Indiana at TCF Bank Stadium Friday.

“We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to be able to finish. But they finished,” head coach P.J. Fleck said. 

The Gophers defense allowed three touchdowns and 22 points in under 10 minutes of clock time in the fourth quarter. The Gophers answered when quarterback Tanner Morgan threw a deep pass to Bateman to put the team ahead 38-31. On the next offensive drive for Indiana, Coughlin sacked Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey and forced the ball out for a fumble. Gary Moore jumped on it, and that was all the Gophers needed to win.

“To be honest with you, I hit the quarterback and I had no idea what happened because I kind of dove for it and lunged for it. Then I got up and saw we had the ball,” Coughlin said. 

Morgan made his first start at quarterback, Tyler Johnson reeled in his 100th reception with Minnesota and veteran running back Shannon Brooks made his return to the field on Friday night.

Morgan finished the game completing 17-24 passes for 302 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in a rainy, sparsely attended game. Zack Annexstad, the usual starting quarterback, suffered an “internal injury” in the first half of the Nebraska game. 

Annexstad was announced the starter after beating out Morgan in a quarterback battle over the summer. Fleck was asked about keeping Morgan as the starter at the post-game press conference.

“They’re both capable of playing football here, and both capable of running our offense at a high level,” Fleck said. “Both of them have proven that. So again, we’ll keep talking about it through the next few days, and see how everybody feels, and then make a decision.”

Brooks ran 22 times for 154 yards and a touchdown in his return to the field on Friday. His return was a surprise, as Fleck said Brooks’ situation on the team was “evolving.” He was arrested in connection to an alleged domestic assault incident on the Sunday before the Nebraska game. 

“Seeing [Brooks] back in the backfield in a game … makes me smile,” Morgan said. “Everything that he’s been through and the way he had that injury and stuff. But it was just amazing to have [Brooks] back there with me, helping me out throughout the game.”

Brooks exited the field with an injury in the beginning of the fourth quarter. He gave up two fumbles, one on his first touch of the season. Fleck didn’t clarify Brooks’ health status.

Johnson had two touchdowns and 102 receiving yards Friday night. His second touchdown was his 100th career reception, it was also his sixth game with 100 or more receiving yards. In the third quarter, Johnson suffered an injury.

Minnesota held a 21-9 lead going into half time. The defense, which allowed a historic 659 yards of offense to Nebraska last week, bent but did not break in the first half. Indiana’s first three drives resulted in field goals. Hoosier’s kicker Logan Justus made 33-, 24-, and 41-yard field goals.

Seth Green opened up scoring for the Gophers when he ran a 1-yard touchdown for a 7-6 lead. He was set up by a 21-yard reception from Chris Autman-Bell.

Morgan threw three passes for 65 yards in the first drive, before Green took over at quarterback and muscled himself into the end zone.

The victory is the first over a Big Ten team this season for Minnesota. The Gophers lost the first four Big Ten games after ending undefeated in the three-game non-conference schedule. Minnesota is now on a three game win-streak over Indiana that dates back to 2008.

“It’s huge. Like I said, I’m very proud of the way the guys played. We know that in those situations we need to be able to keep our foot on the gas and finish the game out in a better way,” linebacker Blake Cashman said.