Leidner, Smith lead Gophers past Oregon State, 30-23
MINNEAPOLIS -- Rodney Smith rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns and Minnesota overcame three ejections for targeting to beat Oregon State 30-23 on Thursday night.
Smith scored on runs of 4 and 2 yards, the last coming in the fourth quarter to put the Gophers in front 24-23. Mitch Leidner was erratic as ever in going 13 for 26 for 130 yards. But he rushed for 76 yard and two scores, the last a 1-yard run with 1:27 left to give the Gophers a seven-point cushion.
"The best thing about first games is they're over," Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys said.
The Gophers lost linebackers Cody Poock and Jonathan Celestin, and defensive end Tai'yon Devers to targeting penalties for helmet-to-helmet hits. But the short-handed defense held Oregon State scoreless for the final 15 minutes.
"It was kind of crazy and kind of nerve-racking seeing all of our starters go out like that," Minnesota defensive back Damarius Travis said.
Darrell Garretson threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns for Oregon State. The junior transfer lost two fumbles on crunching sacks by Devers in the first half, but Garretson bounced back to keep the Beavers in it. He threw TDs to Noah Togiai, Victor Bolden and Tim Cook.
OREGON STATE: After going 2-10 in coach Gary Andersen's first season last year, the Beavers were hoping Garretson's arrival would help speed the rebuilding process. The early returns are promising. He took a beating from Devers on two huge hits in the first half, one in the second quarter that left him lying on the turf for several minutes. But he was able to finish the game and made several big plays to key the Beavers offense.
"You're not going to find a tougher kid than that," Andersen said. "He'll stay in there and he'll fight like crazy. He didn't just get hit. He got drilled numerous times."
MINNESOTA: With a stout defense and a senior quarterback, the Gophers entered this season with high internal expectations. But if they are truly going to contend in the wide-open Big Ten West, they will have to be much more disciplined and precise than they were in the opener. They had eight penalties for 70 yards. Center Tyler Moore snapped the ball over Leidner's head twice, one resulting in a safety, and Leidner missed several open receivers down the field, an underwhelming performance all around.
"I think it's a mixture of both being a little too amped and a little nervous," Leidner said. "We've got guys on the offensive line that haven't played in this type of setting. We've got some young receivers as well. Unfortunately you don't get preseason games like the NFL does to get adjusted to things like that. But to be able to win a game and have some of that sloppiness, that will definitely help us moving forward."
OREGON STATE: The Beavers get next week off before hosting Idaho State for their home opener on Sept. 17.
MINNESOTA: The Gophers host Indiana State on Sept. 10 for what should be an easy tune-up before they face Colorado State for a third straight home game.