Gophers Outlast Bulldogs
September 8, 2018

In what had been a defensive battle for three quarters, the offense opened up in the fourth and saw Minnesota lose the lead, regain it, and then protect it for a 21-14 win over a good Fresno State team coming off a 66-point victory in its previous game. For a while it looked like the roof caved in for the Gophers when on the team’s second play from scrimmage in the opening period, ace running back Rodney Smith was tackled by Mikal Walker and did not get up. Lying on the turf and writhing in pain, Smith displayed all the symptoms of a torn ACL injury. Consistent with current policy, Gopher officials refrained from comment on the extent of Smith’s injury.

A senior, Smith is Minnesota’s second leading all-time rushing yard producer. He averaged 66.2 all-purpose yards per game as a freshman, 123.8 yards as a sophomore, and 120.6 yards as a junior. He is the heart and soul of the Minnesota running game. His replacements are freshmen and a redshirt junior. One of the freshmen, Bryce Williams gained 90 yards on 25 carries as a Smith replacement against Fresno State.

Another freshman, quarterback Zack Annexstad took every Gopher snap, completing 16 of 26 passes for 175 yards. Throughout the game, Annexstad was sacked only once while being protected by stellar offensive linemen Donnell Green, Conner Olsen, Jared Weyler, Blaise Andries, Sam Schleuter, and Ko Kleft.

With the Gophers trailing by 14 to 13 in the third quarter, Annexstad led Minnesota on a 10-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that included a key third-down reception by Tyler Johnson, good for 13 yards.

The winning touchdown came on a three-yard wildcat run by Seth Green. Green then passed to Kleft for a successful two-point conversion attempt.

It was the first pass attempt for Green, who previously ran with the ball on every snap he took. For the game, he gained 30 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns. Minnesota’s two other scores came on field goals of 53 and 50 yards by Emmit Carpenter,

Nestled in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Fresno State blew out Idaho 79-13 in the team’s opener. Fresno State was picked by pre-season experts to win the Mountain West’s tough West Division. Against Idaho, the Bulldogs scored 38 points off turnovers. But on Saturday night, Fresno State was able to create only a single Minnesota turnover. That fumble, however, led to the Bulldogs first touchdown to make the score 10-7.

Fresno State’s coach Jeff Tedford is no stranger to TCF Bank Stadium. His California Golden Bears defeated the Gophers 35-21 in the second game ever played at the stadium. He previously had a home win, 42-17, over a Glen Mason-coached Minnesota team in 2006.

Minnesota’s first of two touchdowns was the result of a 14-play, 80-yard drive. Green carried the ball four straight times, with the last carry finding the end zone. Despite the advantage of game films, the Fresno State coaching staff couldn’t grasp the notion that, when he’s in the game, Green is going to get the snap and, most likely, he’s going to run with the ball. How long this continues for the Gophers depends on opponents keying on Green.

The game came down to an end zone interception of a Josh Hokit pass with 1:18 left in the contest. Antoine Winfield leapt to snare Hosit’s pass and insure the victory. Winfield, as usual, put forward a stellar defensive performance, along with Blake Cashman (10 tackles) and freshman Terell Smith (8).more y

“We had to find creative ways to win this game,” Gopher coach P.J. Fleck said after the game. “Wins like this can mean a lot for the rest of our season.

“The team is evolving. Tonight they showed resolve, heart, and character. They laid it all out on the line to get this win.”

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