Gophers Deficient in All Phases in 49-24 Loss to Michigan
October 24, 2020

Other than Mohammed Ibrahim rushing for 140 yards on 26 carries, the Minnesota Gophers failed on offense, defense, and special teams in a pandemic delayed opening-game loss, 49-24, to the Michigan Wolverines before a TCF Bank Stadium occupied only by families of the players.

Coming off a promising season, the Gophers were ranked #21 in the nation and looked for a strong performance in regaining the Little Brown Jug from the #17/18 Wolverines. However, Minnesota rushers besides Ibrahim had a net loss of 11 yards, many coming as a result of Michigan’s five sacks of Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan.

Morgan completed 18 of 31 passes for 197 yards and 1 touchdown and 1 interception. His Michigan counterpart, Joe Milton, was 15 for 22 for 225 yards with 1 touchdown. Milton also ran 8 times for 52 yards. For Minnesota, Rashod Bateman caught 9 passes for 101 yards.

“We got a lot of work to do,” said Minnesota head coach P. J. Fleck in his opening statement after the game.

Minnesota started strong, stopping Michigan’s opening drive and then blocking Will Hart’s punt, Ben McNaboe falling on the block by Preston Jelen at the Michigan 17. Two plays later, Morgan rolled right and hit tight-end Ko Keift at the goal line for a 14-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.

The Wolverines started their next drive on their own 30 after a squib kick by Brock Walker, who was short with most of his kickoffs. On the first play from scrimmage, Zach Charbonnet got a hole thanks to a ferocious block by right guard Chuck Filiaga, burst throw the opening, and ran untouched for a game-tying touchdown.

Midway through the first quarter, the Gophers started on their 20 after Jake Moody was wide to the right with a 38-yard field goal attempts, the first of three that Moody was off-target with. On the next play linebacker Michael Barrett came in from the right and nailed Morgan, who lost the ball. Donovan Jeter plucked it out of the air and ran 15 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.

Minnesota marched 88 yards on the next drive, reaching the two before a false start moved them back and causing them to settle for a 29-yard field goal from Walker.

Walker’s next squib kickoff was returned 66 yards to the Minnesota 9 by Michael Barrett, leaving a short field that Michigan covered in two plays to open up a 21-10 lead after one quarter.

Minnesota got points back on a 75-yard drive, capped by Ibrahim’s 16-yard run, early in the second quarter, but the 21-17 deficit at this point was as close as the Gophers got. Minnesota couldn’t contain Milton, who ran for 23 yards to the Minnesota 4 on third down, setting up a run by Hassan Haskins into the end zone.

With the kicking/punting game decimated by positive tests for COVID-19 and injuries, punter Matthew Stephenson also struggling, Fleck tried to get creative, going for a fake on a punt on a fourth-and-four from the Minnesota 31. It didn’t work as Keift, taking the snap, was stuffed for a loss. Michigan covered 29 yards in four plays, Haskins carrying for his second touchdown.

Down 25-17 at halftime, the Gophers mounted an 11-play drive that covered 71 yards to cut the lead to 35-24 to start the second half.

The Michigan defense buckled down and kept the Gophers off the board. On one series in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines sacked Morgan on three straight plays.

The Wolverines outgained the Gophers 481 to 326 in yards from scrimmage.

Fleck said he told his players that the loss to Michigan, and how it happened, “could be the best thing that happens to us in 2020. How do you move forward? That’s how you move forward.”

The win was Michigan’s third in a row over Minnesota. The Wolverines now hold a 71-23-2 edge over the Gophers in the battle for the Little Brown Jug.

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