Gophers Slip Past Beavers
September 1, 2016

The University of Minnesota football program’s season got off to a shaky start on September 1 with a narrow 30-23 win at home over an Oregon State team that had won only two games in the previous season.

In the end, it was the running of Rodney Smith and the passing of senior quarterback Mitch Leidner that pulled out the victory over the lowly Beavers, picked to finish last in the PAC-12 North division. Smith, a sophomore, rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries and a pair of touchdowns while Leidner was 13 of 26 from the air while avoiding all sack attempts.

Defensively, Minnesota sputtered, enduring spotty play, injuries, and costly penalties. Three times Gopher players were penalized for “targeting” opponents’ head gear, resulting in the ejection of linebackers Cody Poock and Justin Celestin and defensive end Tai’yon Devers. A gruesome elbow injury claimed linebacker Nick Rallis, and left the Gophers without both official game program cover boys (Rallis and Poock) before the end the firsct quarter, giving rise to the Gopher Gameday jinx. Future cover boys beware. Perhaps the U should consider restoring the practice of placing campus scenes on the cover of the game program.

As for the targeting, head coach Tracy Claeys said he was “all for the rule” and that his players need to “lower their target down.”

He attributed the targeting penalties to an overly enthusiastic attitude on the part of his defensive players.

Minnesota’s offense was ineffective early on, failing to gain a first down in the initial quarter, and the Beavers took advantage. Quarterback Darell Garretson hit tight end Noah Togiai with a six-yard touchdown pass and an eventual 7-0 lead. Garretson is the grandson of NBA referee Darell Garretson and the nephew of current NBA ref Ron Garretson.

The Gophers retaliated with a six-yard touchdown run by Leidner. The home crowd, generously announced at 44,582, breathed easier when Minnesota took a 14-7 lead as the result of a four-yard TD run by Smith. Still, the Beavers came back. The red-hot Garretson hit wide receiver Victor Bolden on a 30-yard Touchdown bomb, and it was 14-14.

With 1:04 left in the half, Leidner led a nine-play, 35-yard drive to the Oregon State 28-yard-line where rookie place kicker Emmit Carpenter hit on a 45-yard field goal as time expired in the half. The score: Minnesota 17, Oregon State 14.

Nervous Nellies in the crowd could not help but remember that last year three of Minnesota’s six wins came against Mid-American Conference opponents, and the Beavers play in the superior PAC-12.

Scoring in the third quarter started with a safety when Gopher center Tyler Moore snapped a ball that sailed well over Leidner’s head into the end zone. It was the second wild snap by Moore in the game. The first had resulted in a 23-yard loss.

The bumbling continued when Drew Wolitarsky fumbled the ball to the Beavers at the Minnesota 25-yard-line. Four plays later, Oregon State was in the end zone, and it was 23-17 Beavers.

It stayed that way into the final quarter until Smith capped a 12-play, 80-yard Minnesota march with a two-yard TD plunge and a 24-23 Gopher lead. A pair of Beaver drives stalled, and, with 4:45 left, Minnesota had the ball on its own 43-yard-line. Leidner then directed a touchdown drive which he finished with a one-yard plunge.

Then, things got weird. Instead of kicking the ball for an extra point, coach Claeys called for a two-point attempt that failed, and the score was 30-23. This had to enervate Beaver coach Gary Andersen (who, by the way, had never lost to the Gophers). his staff, and the entire team who now had 1:02 to tie, or win, the game. It was feared that he failed two-point attempt took the wind out of Gopher sails and shifted momentum to the Beavers.

Fortunately for Minnesota, Garretson was unable to find receivers on three of four attempts, and the Beavers were forced to turn the ball back to Minnesota.

Reporters rushed to question the Gopher coach regarding his decision-making when he went for two. Turns out he had done the same move against Illinois last tear.

“I’d do it that way every time,” he blurted. “It’s a personality thing. I would rather take a chance.” He was reminded that, prior to the two-point attempt, Claeys took a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. This allowed Oregon State extra time to prepare for the play, and, when it failed, the Beavers rushed off the field with momentum. That momentum likely would be sustained in an overtime.

Press box observers thought the timeout had allowed the coach to recover his senses and kick the ball. Jaws dropped in unison when the stubborn Claeys persisted with his two-point attempt.

“My chart says if you are up by seven late in the game you go for two.”

Claeys has never before been a head coach at any level. Even Tim Brewster was a head coach in high school. Nevertheless, Tracy seems to be efficient at creating team spirit and handling the recruiting and PR aspects of head coaching. It is in the area of his game strategy that has become questionable. One wonders what other information is listed on his “chart”.

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