P.J. Fleck now has an impressive non-conference win on his resume. His young Minnesota Gophers took down Fresno State -- an experienced roster fresh off a 10-win season and Hawaii Bowl victory in 2017 -- 21-14 on Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Gophers lost senior running back Rodney Smith in the first quarter to injury, but the offense didn’t regress thanks to more strong play by true freshman walk-on quarterback Zack Annexstad. Annexstad connected with his exciting young group of receivers all night, led by fellow freshman Rashod Bateman, who caught five passes for a team-high 78 yards. And don’t forget about this insane catch by Tyler Johnson.
It came down to the final minute, when a certain Minnesota defensive back came up with one of the biggest plays in recent Gophers history. But more on that later.
Player of the game? How about play of the year?! With Minnesota leading 21-14 and about 1:20 to play in the game, Fresno State ran a halfback pass inside the Gophers’ 10-yard line. It looked like the Bulldogs had a certain touchdown and would tie the game after the ball began floating towards the end zone, heading right for a wide-open receiver. But safety Antoine Winfield Jr. covered approximately 10 yards in a half-second, clamped his hands around the ball and somehow landed a foot inbounds to officially record the interception. Watch his play here. Watch it twice. Put it on a loop.
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DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
Two games, four touchdowns? Not bad for Seth Green. Once an afterthought as a third-string quarterback, Green rushed 11 times for 30 yards and two scores. He also passed for a key two-point conversion to extend Gophers’ lead to seven points in the fourth quarter. Green, a former star at East Ridge High School, has excelled in this new “Gophercat” package designed for him (it’s what we’re calling it, anyway) and looks to be an important part of Minnesota’s offensive plan each week, especially if Rodney is out for an extended amount of time.
On the Gophers’ third play from scrimmage, Smith caught a screen pass from Annexstad and, like he’s done so often, picked up enough yards to move the chains. But the redshirt senior injured his left leg on the play and didn’t return to the game. If this was last year’s offense down Smith and Shannon Brooks, Minnesota might not have put up a point. But that wasn’t the case Saturday. Freshman running back Bryce Williams rushed 25 times for 87 yards, carrying the load on the ground. Smith’s status for next week is unclear as of Sunday morning, but the Gophers certainly hope he’ll be back in action soon.
2-0 -- PJ Fleck is the first Gophers coach to start 2-0 in both of his first two seasons since William H. Spaulding, who coached at Minnesota from 1922-24. It’s fitting, because Fleck said in a postgame interview with KFAN he has a framed picture of Spaulding hanging in his office.
THEY SAID IT
"I thought I was beat at the point, but once I saw where the ball was going I just went up and got it." – Antoine Winfield, Jr. on his game-winning interception
"I feel like they work the hardest of anybody, I feel like they don't get a lot of the glory but they're working and I like running behind them." – wide receiver Seth Green on Minnesota’s offensive line
"This is one that I will always remember, one that can change the tide of a season." – head coach PJ Fleck on Saturday’s win
Minnesota takes its 2-0 record into a battle with Miami (Ohio) next Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. The RedHawks (0-2) lost their season-opener 35-28 to Marshall and fell 21-0 to Cincinnati on Saturday night. The Gophers are 3-0 all-time against Miami (Ohio) with their last win being a 29-23 triumph at home with Jerry Kill on the sidelines in 2011.