Gophers Slip by SDSU
August 28, 2019

In a game they couldn’t afford to lose, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, rallied in the fourth quarter to edge South Dakota State by the score of 28-21. All things being equal, Minnesota would rather not play Dakota teams in football because there is little to gain by victory, and lots to lose in defeat. Other FBS teams previously learned this lesson while playing North Dakota State. And Minnesota will never again schedule the Bison. Thursday’s results eliminate the Jackrabbits from future schedules. Small-school teams tend to expose weaknesses in their more prestigious opponents. For example, the Gophers have only a token pass rush. And their special teams play is horrid.

Once a 20-7 lead had been accomplished, the Gophers failed to put SDSU away and soon found themselves in a 21-20 hole in the fourth quarter. The winning points came only after a J’Bore Gibbs fumble was recovered by Winston DeLattiboudere at the Jackrabbits’ 34-yard line. It took Minnesota five plays plus a SDSU substitution penalty to score (a one-yard plunge by Mohamed Ibrahim). A trick play inspired by the Philadelphia Eagles resulted in a two-point conversion. But the Jackrabbits weren’t done. The ensuing kickoff saw a 47-yard return through befuddled Gopher defenders by Pierre Strong to midfield. SDSU reached the Minnesota 32-yard line before the only sack of the game eventually turned the ball over to the Gophers.

Minnesota had been lucky all night. A miracle one-handed catch by Rashod Bateman resulted in a touchdown. Plus, a wild Gibbs pass was intercepted by Chris Williamson who took it to the house for a score. Otherwise, the Gophers were outgained and outpassed by their FCS opponent. SDSU recorded 367 yards in total offense to 308 yards for Minnesota.

“Sometimes you don’t play your best,” said Gopher coach P.J. Fleck after the game. “And you find a way to win. There are no bad wins. We’re 1-0 and that’s what counts.”

Amidst his usual platitudes, the coach called for “improvement in all areas,” saying his team was “pressing” in the first half. SDSU’s offensive sets were “constantly changing” resulting in Gopher confusion.

“We had to adjust on the fly,” he said. “We could have lost this game,” but succeeded through “relentless effort.”

Minnesota scored first on a Seth Green one-yard run that topped an 18-play, 91-yard touchdown drive. South Dakota State came back with a 66-yard drive of their own, and it was 7-7. The Bateman catch made it 13-7, but after a personal foul by Curtis Dunlap on the point-after attempt, the conversion attempt was missed.

After the Wiiliamson TD run in the third quarter to make it 20-7. SDSU stormed back on a touchdown run by Mikey Daniel and a Gibbs connection to Zach Heins resulted in a 21-20 lead for the Jackrabbits into the fourth quarter. Ibrahim’s touchdown then proved to be the winner.

The Gophers now have won 16 straight nonconference games, alleged to be the longest such streak in the nation. Minnesota has never lost to the Jackrabbits, ranked the No. 3 FCS team in the nation. The first win came in 1905. However, the two teams did not meet from 1933 to 2009.

In 2004, SDSU and NDSU escaped from Division II and the weakest-in-the-nation Northern Sun Conference into Division I status, allowing, among other benefits, the two schools possible entry into the March Madness of the NCAA basketball tournament, something which both schools annually fight it out over a berth.

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