Upon Further Review: Gophers get expected result with big win over Rutgers

BY Dave Heller • October 20, 2019

Minnesota wasn’t supposed to be offered much of a challenge by Rutgers, even if the game was Weing played in New Jersey.

While the 20th-ranked Gophers entered a 28 1/2-point road favorite, all Minnesota had to do was look at its rival Wisconsin, which lost earlier in the day at Illinois despite being a 31-point favorite, as to what can happen if you take an opponent for granted, sleepwalk through a game and/or look ahead to next week.



However, the Gophers didn’t exactly start out on fire, scoring lone touchdowns in each of the first three quarters. But Minnesota poured in 21 points in the final 15 minutes … although against Rutgers’ anemic offense, only its first two scores would have been necessary as the Gophers won 42-7 to advance to 7-0.

Getting a shutout or not was about the only drama and the Scarlet Knights ruined that proposition with their second conference touchdown (Rutgers entered with 23 points in its last five games) with just under six minutes to play.

Nevertheless, there was plenty of good cheer to go around on all sides of the ball as Minnesota outgained Rutgers 443-189 and produced three turnovers (the Scarlet Knights also fumbled three times but recovered each).

Not everything was perfect for Minnesota, though, as leading tackler linebacker Kamal Martin left with an injury.

But overall it wasn’t the most exciting game to follow and that was just fine for Minnesota. An easy, no-worry game was just what the doctor ordered.

Here's a recap of Saturday’s game:

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Minnesota once again came out with the intent to run and run some more. And, again, Rodney Smith led the charge. He finished with 111 yards on 19 carries and found the end zone twice. On Minnesota’s first scoring drive, which went 57 yards on nine plays, Minnesota ran seven times, with Smith getting five of those carries including the touchdown.




DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME

Pick a defensive player any defensive player. Antoine Winfield had two interceptions – the first Minnesota defensive back with two picks in a game since Cedric Thompson in 2014, nearly five years to the day (Oct. 18). Winfield took his second one to the house to put Minnesota over 30 points for the fifth consecutive game (the first time the Gophers have done that since 2003, when they did it in six straight.)





THAT MOMENT

Let’s be honest, this game was kind of a snoozer (albeit the nice kind of snoozer for Minnesota). So, you’d hardly expect one of the moments of the year to take place. But after the Gophers’ fourth touchdown, sophomore walk-on Casey O’Brien came onto the field to hold for the extra point. After the attempt was successful, O’Brien’s teammates mobbed O’Brien. This wasn’t some normal extra point. O’Brien is a four-time cancer survivor who was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer in high school and was told he’d never play football. Head coach P.J. Fleck, who had a long embrace with O’Brien on the sideline, said he had wanted to get O’Brien into the last game, but the Gophers circumstances didn’t work out, so Fleck decided to put O’Brien on the travel roster. The plan worked and O’Brien got into the game (and actually got two more times on the field as Minnesota kept scoring), setting up the incredible and inspirational moment.




THIS NUMBER

Tyler Johnson had 130 yards receiving, including a 56-yard touchdown for Minnesota’s final score. It was his 12th 100-yard game, setting a Gophers record. Also, his 26 receiving touchdowns tied Ernest Wheelwright for second-most in Minnesota history. Johnson has caught a pass in 30 straight games, or, every game since the start of his sophomore season.

THEY SAID IT

"He survived cancer four times. They said he'd never play football. Never be on a team, let alone a Big Ten football team, and he'd never play. No one can ever take away from Casey O'Brien, he just played on a 7-0 football team at the University of Minnesota. ... And it was one of most emotional moments I've had as a head football coach on a very positive side because when you stay in coaching long enough, and you're a player long enough you see a lot of things, and I've seen a lot of tragic things in my life. But to have that be one of those things that went from tragic to hope to accomplishment. That's important, that's special." -- head coach P.J. Fleck

"We wanted a shutout, but it happens. This is football, points are going to be scored. We don’t really look at it as a failure." -- safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

“Well, I ran up to him and the one thing that we’ve been talking about all year was ‘is it worth it?’ I just told him that it was worth it. Everything that we’ve been through as a team and everything I’ve been through personally, with everything at the hospital, going through cancer four times, it was worth it tonight.” – O’Brien on his embrace with Fleck after his first collegiate play

"They don't hurt themselves very much. They just play their brand of football and they play it well." -- Rutgers quarterback Johnny Langan on Minnesota’s defense

WHAT'S NEXT

Minnesota heads back home to face Maryland, which is 3-4 but losers of back-to-back games (also, one win was over FCS Howard and the other at Rutgers). The Terrapins lost to Indiana on Saturday, 34-28. Maryland has been without QB Josh Jackson (51.1%, 10 TD, 4 INT) the past two games and running back Anthony McFarland (5.15, 7 TDs) didn’t play against the Hoosiers. The Terps have allowed over 400 yards in five games, including 500+ in three.



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