On a day when conference foes Wisconsin, Maryland and Nebraska were upset at home, head coach PJ Fleck’s young Minnesota Gophers took care of business, rolling to a 26-3 rout of Miami (Ohio).
Freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad was hobbled with an ankle injury, but he toughed it out and led Minnesota to all 26 points before taking a seat to rest midway through the third quarter. The Gophers defense swarmed Miami (Ohio) all afternoon, forcing three turnovers and a safety. And most importantly, for the third straight year, Fleck has his team sitting 3-0 heading into Big Ten play.
Minnesota quarterbacks (Annexstad, Seth Green) have thrown five touchdown passes this season, and all five have gone to Tyler Johnson. The junior hauled in a career-best nine receptions for 133 yards and career-high three touchdowns, dominating Miami’s secondary from start to finish. Johnson also became the 25th Gophers wide receiver to surpass the 1,000-yard career milestone, as his total sits at 1,101 through 26 games -- and 283 this season alone.
Interestingly enough, Johnson posted 282 receiving yards through the first three games last season before being held to 395 yards (56.4 per game) the rest of the way. If the Gophers’ young offense has any chance against legitimate conference foes, it will need Johnson to keep producing big stat lines and maintain the game-changing level of play he’s brought to the nonconference schedule.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
Junior linebacker Carter Coughlin was all over the field Saturday, compiling three tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss against the Redhawks. Coughlin, who led the Gophers in sacks last season with 6.5, registered the second multi-sack game of his career. His first takedown of the afternoon was on Miami’s third play from scrimmage, coming on a 3rd-and-9 that set the tone for the rest of the game.
It was a one-possession game with under three minutes to play in the first half, but the Gophers had Miami pinned deep on its own 2-yard line. On a critical 3rd-and-10, RedHawks running back Alonzo Smith clumsily tripped over quarterback Gus Ragland in the backfield and was immediately tagged down by Minnesota’s Thomas Barber for a safety. It was the turning point of the afternoon, as the Gophers marched 68 yards down the field on the ensuing possession and punched it in via Johnson’s second touchdown reception of the game for a 19-3 lead before halftime.
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33 – With Rodney Smith’s season-ending injury last week, the Minnesota rushing game is all up to freshman Bryce Williams. And Fleck has no intention of easing Williams into the role, either. The Sarasota, Fla., native rushed 33 times for a career-high 141 yards (4.3 yards per carry) on Saturday. His effort marks the first time a Gophers halfback has tallied 33+ carries in a game since David Cobb rushed 35 times in a 39-38 victory over Purdue on Oct. 18, 2014, and the 10th time in program history since 2000. Gophers great Laurence Maroney did it three times in one season, topped by his 46 carries for 217 yards against Purdue on Sept. 24, 2005.
THEY SAID IT
“We left a lot of meat on the bone on offense. We had opportunities to score, big plays. We’d get the momentum going and then – errt! – we’d be in quick sand.” – head coach PJ Fleck
“There’s a lot of people in our league today that did not win. Winning is hard. Period! When a team comes in after winning by 23 points and they have a little disappointment in them, you know you got a special group of people.” – Fleck
“We’re all having fun together. We try to practice like pros and play like kids. When you’re having fun, it’s easy to make plays.” – linebacker Thomas Barber
“It’s impressive. And he ran hard 33 times. He didn’t just run 33 times. So it’s impressive and I look forward to seeing him grow.” -- offensive lineman Jared Weyler on freshman running back Bryce Williams
Minnesota begins Big Ten play with an afternoon kickoff against the 2-1 Maryland Terrapins. Maryland began its season with an impressive win over Texas, a program ranked 23rd in the preseason polls. But after rolling over Bowling Green in Week 2, the Terrapins suffered an unexpected 35-14 loss to Temple at home Saturday and will look to get their season back on track next week.