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Minnesota football out-rushed Bowling Green in Quick Lane Bowl win

Running back Darius Taylor took his 37 touches for 219 of the offense’s 281 total yards.
Image by Amaya Battle
The Gophers beat Bowling Green 30-24 in this years Quick Lane Bowl.

The Minnesota Gophers won the Quick Lane Bowl 30-24 over Bowling Green, the program’s seventh consecutive bowl game win.

The Gophers went into the bowl game with a lengthy list of inactive players. Five of them were defensive players who had started games this season.

One positive to come out of the inactive list was the return of freshman running back Darius Taylor. Taylor led the team in rushing yards in the regular season though he only played in five games.

On defense, the lack of depth in the linebacker room plagued Minnesota all season, relying on Maverick Baranowski, Devon Williams and Tyler Stolsky. On top of that, defensive signal caller Joe Rossi departed to East Lansing for the same role at Michigan State.

Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck approached the bowl game with his attention on the program’s seventh consecutive bowl game victory. During a press conference on Dec. 20, Fleck said the team would not begin the search for a new defensive coordinator until after the season’s completion.

“For me to be able to put one hundred percent of my attention right now into the hire, I’d be shortchanging our team, staff, players and state of Minnesota,” Fleck said. “I have an obligation to make sure I do my due diligence and not sportingly.”

Heading into the game Tuesday afternoon, safeties coach Danny Collins got the chance to call the defensive plays for Minnesota.

Bowling Green started the game with back-to-back first downs, picking up 29 yards. On the third play, quarterback Connor Bazelak launched a 46-yard pass to receiver Odieu Hiliare for a touchdown just over a minute into the game.

Taylor got the Gophers’ first touch and took it ahead for a gain of 14 yards and a first down. On the next play, quarterback Cole Kramer, making the first start of his collegiate career, completed his second pass of the season to Daniel Jackson for three yards.

Minnesota’s early offensive game plan was to give Taylor the ball. He received nine of the first 10 touches and took them for 51 yards.

On third-and-goal, Kramer found receiver Elijah Spencer, who created space at the top of his route in the endzone for a touchdown. Minnesota failed to convert the two-point conversion on a trick play that saw kicker Dragan Kesich take the snap and attempt to hurdle a defender. The score stayed 7-6 Bowling Green.

After marching into Gophers territory again, the Falcons stalled on offense, leading to fourth-and-seven from the 34-yard line. Instead of attempting a 51-yard field goal, Bowling Green went for it. The deep pass to Hiliare fell incomplete and led to a turnover on downs.

Minnesota started the second quarter with a third-and-three, running it up the middle with Taylor. The play who picked up two yards and led to a Minnesota punt.

Camden Orth, part of the quarterback tandem for the Falcons, started the drive with a six-yard rush. Orth fumbled the exchange between him and Harold Fannin Jr but the Falcons recovered, leading to a punt back to the Gophers.

Two straight incompletions by Kramer led to Kesich kicking a 31-yard field goal to put Minnesota ahead 9-7.

The Falcons moved into Gopher territory after two completions to Hiliare before a penalty and a sack from defensive lineman Jah Joyner moved them back to their side of the 50 yard line. Bowling Green was forced to punt, giving Minnesota the ball back.

After a punt exchange, on Minnesota’s first offensive play, Falcons outside linebacker Cashius Howell hit Kramer, popping the ball up into the air. Safety Darius Lorfils intercepted the ball and returned it to the Minnesota 15-yard line. After not picking up a first down, Falcons kicker Alan Anaya drilled a 33-yard field goal making it 10-9 Bowling Green.

At the half, both teams struggled to move the ball offensively after both scoring touchdowns on their opening possessions. Kramer headed into the locker room seven7-for-11 for just 19 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Gophers received the second-half kickoff, and Kramer was hit as he threw again, but this pop-up was not fielded. Taylor picked up 23 yards on the next two plays on the ground, picking up a first down.

Minnesota capped off an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a “tush push,” utilizing Kramer’s frame to get into the endzone. The Gophers gained every yard of the drive on the ground and took the 16-10 lead.

On their next offensive possession, Minnesota drew up a play-action pass to free up tight end Jameson Geers for his first career touchdown, pushing the lead to 23-10 Gophers.

Bowling Green started their first drive of the fourth quarter with a handoff to PaSean Wimberly, who accelerated through the secondary for a pickup of 42 yards.

The Falcons picked up another first down and then ran a sweep to Wimberly for 18 yards into the endzone for a touchdown, pulling the Falcons within a score of 23-17.

Redshirt sophomore Le’Meke Brockington gave the Gophers their best kickoff return of the season of 51 yards into Falcons territory.

The Gophers rushing attack and a pass interference penalty helped move Minnesota back into the red zone. On the second of Taylor’s back-to-back wildcat carries, he high-stepped his way into the end zone, pushing the Gophers’ lead to 30-17.

The Falcons put together a 14-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off with a Bazelak touchdown run, cutting the Gophers lead to six points. IHowever, in the process of doing so, they took over five minutes off the clock and spent their last two timeouts.

Fifth-year receiver Corey Crooms Jr., who did record a single reception in the game, recovered the onside kick attempt.

Taylor sealed the victory by getting himself over 200 yards on the ground with a 10-yard run and a first down. Taylor’s 208 rushing yards and 11 receiving yards contributed to 78 percent of the Gophers total offense.

During the postgame press conference, Taylor, a native to Detroit, said he had about 100 family and friends attend the game to watch him play.

“I used probably about 100 tickets,” Taylor said. “I had a lot of people here but it was just cool to play in front of my family. Honestly, it was just great to be back playing in general with the guys.”

Kramer knelt with the ball three times to burn out the rest of the clock and earn his first-ever victory as the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Gophers. Kramer finished with two touchdown passes on 26 passing yards in his final game of football.

During a postgame interview with Fox 9, Kramer said despite the team’s change, the win showed how the team persevered.

“This team is extremely resilient. I couldn’t be more proud and thankful for them,” Kramer said. “Every step of the way, we’ve had our ups and downs throughout the season, but something special about this team is how connected we were and we showed it today.”

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