Gophers Hang on for Win, but Lose QB
September 6, 2014

Ahead by 28 to 0 at halftime against Middle Tennessee State University at TCF Bank Stadium on September 6, Minnesota’s Golden Gophers took their feet off the accelerator and coasted to a 35-24 victory before 47,223 spectators, many of whom arrived to take advantage of a perfect weather day for football.

As Minnesota had done the previous week against Eastern Illinois, when the Gophers jumped to a 35-0 lead, the team felt secure enough to rest on its laurels against a lesser opponent. But Middle Tennessee is not a FCS opponent like Eastern Illinois and was a participant last season in a bowl game. The Blue Raiders had enough weapons to make those in attendance feel edgy while outscoring the home team by 24 to 7 in the second half.

“We had a good solid first half,” Gopher coach Jerry Kill said after the game. In the second half, he noted that “fatigue set in. The whole team in general didn’t play as well.”

Running back David Cobb, who rushed for a career-high 220 net yards, told the media that he felt the Gophers were “lackadaisical” in the second half. “We got too comfortable on both sides of the ball.”

Injuries played a part in the team’s second-half performance. “We had to pull the redshirts off some freshmen,” Kill muttered. “We were just trying to get out of the game.” The most serious injury was to quarterback Mitch Leidner, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee and could be out as long as six weeks.

Prior to the injury, Leidner had completed five of 11 passes and rushed for 32 yards. He was replaced by second-stringer Chris Streveler, redshirt freshman from Crystal Lake, Ill. Behind Streveler on the depth chart are Minnesota natives and freshmen Jacques Parra and Conor Rhoda. Kill has elected to redshirt the most promising freshman quarterback on the roster, Dimonic Roden-McKinzy of Kansas City.

Located in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Middle Tennessee is a member of Conference USA and is in its 100th year of participation in intercollegiate football. The game marked the second between the Blue Raiders and the Gophers. The first saw Minnesota eking out a 24-17 win, the last in the ill-fated career of then head coach Tim Brewster.

The Blue Raiders have faced Big Ten opposition five times in team history and have come out on the losing side in each contest. Yet, in the past five years, Middle Tennessee had been bowl-eligible four times. Quarterback Austin Grammer made his first collegiate start the previous week and was 15-17 for 250 yards against Savannah State.

Minnesota took the opening kickoff and drove to the opposition’s 26-yard-line where the drive stalled and Ryan Santoso missed a 44-yard field goal attempt. Middle Tennessee failed to advance the ball and punted to the Gophers, who drove 69 yards in 10 plays topped off by a one-yard touchdown by running back Donnell Kirkwood. The first quarter ended with a 7-0 Minnesota lead.

In the second quarter, Minnesota’s sophomore defensive back Jalen Myrick intercepted a Grammer pass at the MTU 31-yard line and returned it for a touchdown. “Jalen did a good job of reading the quarterback’s eyes,” said coach Kill. “He’s a really good football player for a young guy. Plus he can really run.”

On the next series, Damien Wilson, Cobb’s cousin, intercepted a Grammer pass at the Middle Tennessee 27-yard line. It took one play for the Gophers to score, a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Maxx Williams, and it was 21-0. It was his only catch of the day. When asked if he’d like to see the ball more, Williams replied, “I just do what my coaches tell me to do. That’s all I can do.”

On Minnesota’s next possession, the Gopher brain trust decided it would simply run Cobb at the Blue Raiders. Cobb rushed the ball four straight times. Cobb rushed for 27 yards, 24 yards, and 7 yards, the last one for a touchdown, and it was 28-0. “I was surprised that they were playing their safeties so deep,” said Kill. “We decided to take advantage of that. It’s hard to take Cobb off the field when he’s running that well.”

The Gopher team that left at halftime with a comfortable 28-0 lead did not return as the same team. Complacency had set in. On its first series, Middle Tennesse’s Reggie Whatley ran for a 44-yard touchdown romp. Then Cody Clark kicked a 21-yard field goal, and it was 28-10. Minnesota answered with a 48-yard touchdown by the red-hot Cobb, but Whatley struck again with a 12-yard touchdown run. The third quarter ended with the Gophers clinging to a 35-17 lead.

Things worsened in the final quarter. The Blue Raiders narrowly missed a field goal attempt but stopped Minnesota on the next series of downs and went on a 14-play, 80-yard drive culminated with a Grammer touchdown pass to Marcus Henry. Minnesota then foiled an onside kick attempt and ran out the clock.

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