Upon Further Review: Gophers vs. Georgia Southern

One thing is clear three games into Minnesota’s season – the Gophers sure don’t make things easy on themselves.

For the third straight game Minnesota had to stage a fourth-quarter comeback and for the third straight game the Gophers squeaked out a victory, this time 35-32 over Georgia Southern. But unlike the previous two wins, this sure looked like it was going to be a disastrous defeat.

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Leading 28-20 and ready to make it a two-possession game, Michael Lantz had a field-goal attempt blocked which Georgia Southern blocked and returned for a touchdown. Just over two minutes later, Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan was hit and fumbled, the Eagles recovering and returning this for a touchdown as well.

Georgia Southern needed the returns because the Eagles gained just 198 yards using its triple-option offense and passed just nine times (three of those coming in the waning moments).

But Minnesota had one chance left and went on a 13-play, 75-yard drive, culminating in a Morgan to Tyler Johnson touchdown, the receiver’s third of the game, with 13 seconds remaining to help the Gophers snatch victory from defeat.

It wasn’t pretty and maybe it wasn’t fully deserved, but no one team is going to feel bad about winning. And Minnesota now has three of those victories. Let Big Ten play begin.

Here’s a recap of Saturday’s game:

 

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Tyler Johnson had been relatively quiet in Minnesota’s first two games, catching seven passes for 99 yards and no touchdowns combined. That changed against Georgia Southern. Johnson had 10 receptions for 140 yards and three TDs, including several nice grabs. The game-wining touchdown was perhaps his most impressive, somehow fighting off a defender (who was called for pass interference) on a fade to the end zone and corralling the football. Johnson now has five games with 2+ TDs since the start of the 2018 season, tied for most in nation over that span. Since 2015, only three players have more games with 3+ receiving TDs (Baylor’s Corey Coleman, West Virginia’s David Stills and Toledo’s Cody Thompson each had four).

 

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME

Bryce Williams didn’t necessarily put up the numbers – he gained 23 yards on 14 carries, with a long of 14, and a touchdown – but he as able to finish the game. No other Minnesota running back could claim that honor. With Shannon Brooks already out and Mohamed Ibrahim suited up but not playing, Minnesota lost Rodney Smith to an injury early in the game and then later freshman Cam Wiley also was lost early in the fourth quarter. Six of Williams’ carries, including the TD, came in the final quarter.

 

THAT MOMENT

Minnesota had several big plays on its game-winning drive, including a 25-yard catch and run to Rashod Bateman which gave the Gophers the ball at the Georgia Southern 11-yard line with 46 seconds remaining. But none of it would have been possible without two big catches by Demetrius Douglas. A penalty and sack left the Gophers with third-and-29 from their own 6. But Morgan found Douglas on the sideline for a 21-yard gain and then on fourth down the pair connected over the middle for 10 yards. Amazingly, Minnesota wouldn’t face a third down again the rest of the drive.

 

 

THIS NUMBER

13 – combined margin of victory for Minnesota after three games, all wins. No other 3-0 team in FBS has a worse differential (Wyoming is next with a plus-20 margin of victory).

 

THEY SAID IT

“This team has some of the most heart I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” — head coach P.J. Fleck

 

“There is something to be said for how we are winning. There are going to be a lot of close games in the Big Ten. … This team has found a way to win very difficult games and have been tested.” — Fleck

 

“Six is the man, point blank period.” — quarterback Tanner Morgan on Tyler Johnson

 

“Just seeing how we can finish games and knowing we can finish games. Refusing to lose versus wanting to win.” — linebacker Thomas Barber on the changes he’s seen in the Gophers

 

WHAT’S NEXT

Minnesota has a week off before traveling to Purdue, which also will have a week’s rest. However, the Boilermakers are coming off a thumping of TCU and are 1-2 on the season, also losing their opener to Nevada 34-31, before beating Vanderbilt 42-24. Purdue could use the break to heal as starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar missed Saturday’s loss to the Horned Frogs.