Gophers Get by Buffalo in Fleck’s Debut
August 31, 2017

The Minnesota Gophers controlled but didn’t dominate in a 17-7 win over the Buffalo Bulls in P. J. Fleck’s first game as head coach.

Using a co-quarterback system, Minnesota scored its only two touchdowns in the first half but missed padding a 14-7 lead in the closing minutes when senior Connor Rhoda was intercepted in the end zone. Sophomore Demry Croft started the second half at quarterback, although Fleck said it was “exactly how we mapped out”the quarterback situation, which he stuck to even after what he called a “catastrophic mistake”by Rhoda.

Favored by 24 points over the Bulls, the Gophers scored on their second possession when Rhoda hit Tyler Johnson, a sophomore from North High School in Minneapolis, on a crossing pattern, and Johnson outraced defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.

Later in the quarter the Bulls tied the game as 6-foot-7 sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson connected with Anthony Johnson for a 50-yard gain to the Minnesota 16 and followed up with a soft pass into the hands of Johnson, who had beaten cornerback Antonio Shenault in the end zone. Fleck said he had, while coaching at Western Michigan, recruited Jackson, who is from Norton Shores, Michigan, and called him the “next up-and-coming Mid-American Conference quarterback.

The Gophers answered as Croft entered for the next drive and, on his first pass, found Eric Carter for a 23-yard gain into Bulls territory. After another completion, to Demetrius Douglas, Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks gained yards on the ground with Brooks running the ball in from a yard out with 43 seconds left in the first quarter.

Emmet Carpenter, the Gophers’ dependable placekicker, was wide with a 50-yard field-goal attempt early in the second quarter, but it was the missed points at the end that stood out more. Minnesota faced a third-and-five at the Buffalo 5 when Rhoda was picked off by Cameron Lewis in the left corner of the end zone.

Tyler Johnson had all six of his catches, for 141 yards, in the first half as Buffalo’s defense—led by linebacker Khalil Hodge, who had 20 tackles—shut down the Gophers in the second half. However, the Minnesota defense was strong, as well, and prevented the Bulls from mounting any sustained drives, although the Gophers didn’t help themselves; on their first possession, they were called three times for holding.

In the fourth quarter Carpenter missed a 36-yard field goal, and Buffalo stayed within a touchdown until late in the game when Carpenter kicked a 43-yarder.

Although he conceded that the team did not have its best performance, Fleck was predictably upbeat in his post-game press conference, saying “I’m proud of our team for finding a way to win the game.” He concluded with his catch phrase, “Row the Boat! Ski-U-Mah! Go Gophers!

Minnesota next heads west for a game with Oregon State.

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