Tracy Claeys was on the cusp of a few major upsets during his first season as the Gophers’ head coach, nearly knocking off conference foe Michigan in his first game following Jerry Kill’s retirement and giving Iowa a scare just a few weeks later.
But while a win in the Quick Lane Bowl isn’t exactly a major milestone, a win is a win.
Minnesota’s 21-14 victory over Central Michigan on Monday broke an 11-year bowl drought that stretches all the way back to a win over Alabama in 2004, even if the cathartic game came on the heels of a 5-7 season.
Still, while there’s been plenty to criticize this season in Minneapolis the Gophers turned in a solid performance against the Chippewas, led by quarterback Matt Leidner and cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun.
SUNDAY SCHOOL (ON MONDAY)
— Leidner posted his highest passer rating of the season against Central Michigan, clocking in at 146.8 on the day, while throwing for more than 200 yards for the eighth time this season.
— The junior logged another season-high Monday, finishing with an 80 percent completion rate, significantly better than his 58.5 percent season average.
— Minnesota’s defensive backs smothered Central Michigan’s typically prolific passing offense, limiting quarterback Cooper Rush to just 145 passing yards and an interception. Cooper threw for fewer than 300 yards just four times during the regular season.
— Running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks combined for 139 rushing yards in the win, as the freshmen came up big against the Chippewas.
— Former head coach Jerry Kill was an honorary captain for the coin toss after retiring in October due to health issues brought on by a long battle with epilepsy.
WHAT IT MEANT
Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys refused to call Monday’s win unearned, telling reporters that he and his team "deserved to be here and had a great time."
The win snaps an 11-year bowl drought for Minnesota that dates back to the 2004 Music City Bowl.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Leidner may have put the Gophers in front with a late rushing touchdown, but senior defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun did the rest, intercepting Rush on Minnesota’s own 35-yard line to help ice the game. The senior had five tackles, while breaking up two passes and adding his late-game interception to lead Minnesota to the win.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
Leidner may not post gaudy numbers all that often, but the junior quarterback was on point against the Chippewas, moving the ball down the field with precision. Leidner missed just passes on the day, while posting season highs in completion percentage and passer rating.
Leidner called his own number when it mattered most, taking the ball 13 yards straight up the middle himself to put Minnesota in front with less than five minutes remaining.
145 — The Gophers defense held Cooper Rush to his lowest passing totals of the season, as the Chippewas’ all-time leader in passing yards came up short against Minnesota’s secondary. Rush was averaging 308 passing yards per game heading into the Quick Lane Bowl.
THEY SAID IT
"I’m not going to apologize for any of it. We felt like based on the rules, we played by the rules and deserved to be here and had a great time." — Gophers coach Tracy Claeys
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"We were confident when we come out onto that field. Defense, we knew was playing great all night. We knew that if we could get another touchdown up on the board, they would get another stop for us." — Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner
The Gophers head into 2016 with Claeys at the helm and a top-ranked quarterback recruit on the way. Former East Ridge quarterback Seth Green committed to Minnesota earlier this month after backing out of his commitment to Oregon. A 6-foot-4 senior at Texas prep powerhouse Allen High School, Green gives the Gophers an exciting dual-threat option heading into next season.