Leidner returns as Gophers edge Rutgers 34-32
MINNEAPOLIS — When Emmitt Carpenter missed a 34-yard field goal wide right in the second quarter on Saturday, Minnesota was already leading 21-10 and was having the expected success against Rutgers' porous defense.
While the Golden Gophers were driving at will on offense as big favorites at home, Carpenter knew he would be needed again. In a bit of a surprise, Carpenter's time would be with 10 seconds left.
Carpenter connected for a 28-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining and Minnesota survived for a 34-32 victory against the Scarlet Knights.
“After that missed kick in the first half, I thought about it for a little bit just to kind of learn from the experience and what I did wrong, and then just kind of clean the slate,” Carpenter said of getting another chance after his miss. “I knew that my name would be called again at some point in the game. I just had to respond for that.”
The Gophers scored touchdowns on their first three possessions for a 21-0 lead against Rutgers, which entered the game allowing the most points per game and second-most yards per game in Big Ten play.
“We had a great week of practice and we come out of the gates,” Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys said. “We didn't handle that lead for whatever reason.”
Rodney Smith had a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and ran for 111 yards and a touchdown for the Gophers (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten). Mitch Leidner returned after missing one game with a concussion and was 11-of-18 passing for 156 yards and an interception.
Rutgers cornerback Damon Hayes intercepted Leidner and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown with just over six minutes left in the third quarter, but Knights kicker David Bongaura couldn't tie the game when he missed the PAT.
Smith took Bongaura's ensuing kickoff and raced down the home sideline for the first kickoff return for a touchdown by a Minnesota player since Jalen Myrick in 2014.
Giovanni Rescigno was 22 of 38 for 220 yards passing in making his first start for Rutgers (2-6, 0-5). Rescigno threw three touchdown passes and two interceptions for the Knights, who had scored 14 points in four conference games prior to Saturday.
“A lot of heart, a lot of spirit; he made a lot of plays,” coach Chris Ash said of Rescigno. “I'm really happy for the kid and really excited about what he can do as we move forward.”
Bongaura made a 39-yard field goal with four minutes left, but Minnesota went 59 yards in 13 plays to set up Carpenter's game-winner. Smith had 25 yards rushing, including a 3-yard run on third down, spinning away from defenders twice for a first down.
“I kind of get the feel when the offense needs a spark, and we knew what we had to do to win the game,” Smith said.
Shannon Brooks had 22 carries for 87 yards as the Gophers ran for 243 yards. Rutgers had allowed an average of 328 rushing yards in four previous Big Ten games.
“I feel for them,” Ash said. “We're going to get better. We'll get over that hump. I don't know when it's going to be, but we'll get over that hump. There's no quit in these guys. The attitude's extremely high.”
Minnesota linebacker Jack Lynn was ejected in the second half for targeting when he lowered his shoulder and hit receiver Jawuan Harris.
RUTGERS: Despite the two interceptions, Rescigno has given the Knights a spark at quarterback. With the Rescigno using his arm and legs (11 carries for 26 yards), Rutgers had its most impressive offensive performance of the season in Big Ten play.
MINNESOTA: The Gophers defense entered the game with the fifth-ranked defense in Big Ten play. But Minnesota was shaky against the relatively unknown Rescigno and gave up 372 total yards.
RUTGERS: Finally gets its bye week before hosting Indiana on Nov. 5.
Minnesota: The Gophers go on the road at Illinois on Oct. 29.
- FOX Sports North
- Jack Lynn
- Jalen Myrick
- Justin Goodwin
- Minnesota Golden Gophers
- Mitch Leidner
- Rodney Smith
- Shannon Brooks