Gophers Beat Syracuse 17-10
September 22, 2012

The Minnesota Gophers completed an undefeated nonconference schedule with a 17-10 win over the Syracuse Orange in a game defined by penalties, turnovers, and missed field goals as well as big plays by the Gophers’ defense.

The Orange presented Minnesota’s toughest challenge of the season, and Max Shortell, playing in place of injured MarQueis Gray, passed for 231 yards, completing 16 of 30 passes. “We had him making calls at the line, so we asked him [Shortell] to do some different things,” said head coach Jerry Kill after the game. “We didn’t hold back on the game plan. Our coaches are confident in Max’s abilities, and he checked a lot of plays. He got blitzed probably 85 to 90 percent of the time tonight, and with a young quarterback, here they come, and he did a great job of getting the ball out for the most part.”

On the other side of the line, the defense opened the game with an interception and stopped an Orange drive that had reached within inches of the goal line with another in the third quarter.

A sellout crowd of 50,805, helped by a promotion with discounted tickets, provided enough noise to affect Syracuse’s offense and lead to several false-start penalties. The Orange was penalized 10 times for 79 yards and the Gophers 8 times for 63 yards. “We came into a hostile environment for our football team. We got shook up at times with the noise, ” said Syracuse coach Doug Marrone.

With a strong wind blowing to the east (bowl end of the stadium), Minnesota deferred the choice after winning the coin flip and kicked off. However, the Gophers took possession after only 5 seconds had elapsed from the game clock as, after an opening touchback, Ryan Nassib’s pass bounced off receiver Jarrod West and was caught by diving safety Cedric Thompson at the Orange 34.

Although the Gophers gained yardage on the ground and through the air, an offensive pass interference penalty in the end zone on Isaac Fruechte moved the ball back. The drive came up empty as Jordan Wettstein was wide with a 39-yard field-goal attempt.

Syracuse had a drive derailed when center Mackey MacPherson was flagged for tripping a Minnesota lineman. The Gophers got the ball back following a 35-yard punt into the wind by Jonathan Fisher, and Shortell led a 58-yard march to the end zone. Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas was called for interference on Drew Goodger in the end zone, giving the Gophers a first down on the 2. Donnell Kirkwood, who rushed for 99 yards in the game, completed the drive with a run to give the Gophers a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

Two false-start penalties hampered Syracuse on its next drive, but the Orange were able to get close enough for a 33-yard field goal by Ross Krautman to cut the Gophers’ lead.

Neither team scored again in the half, although the Gophers had another missed chance at points as Wettstein was wide again on a field-goal attempt, this one from 26 yards.

Minnesota took the opening kickoff of the second half and took 12 plays to cover 87 yards, Kirkwood again capping the drive, this time with a 1-yard touchdown run, and the Gophers had a 14-3 lead.

Syracuse came within a foot of an 87-yard touchdown drive of its own, and the Orange got close after back-to-back pass-interference penalties in the end zone on cornerback Michael Carter, giving Syracuse a first down on the 1. Jerome Smith was then stopped just short of the goal line. On the next play Nassib pitched to Smith, who wasn’t able to turn the corner and was run out of bounds by Derrick Wells for a 3-yard loss. On third down, Nassib was hit while passing; the ball squirted into the air and picked off by linebacker Aaron Hill, stopping the Orange’s opportunity to cut into the Gophers’ 11-point lead.

Despite an unnecessary unnecessary-roughness penalty on nose tackle Jay Bromley, who threw Kirkwood to the ground after driving him back into the end zone, Minnesota couldn’t advance the ball, and punted to the Syracuse 49. The Orange gained 19 yards on a pass from Nassib to Alec Lemon, who caught 9 passes in the game for 106 yards. Syracuse then faced a third and 1 at the 23, and Ashton Broyld got the yards needed for the first down. However, he had the ball knocked loose by Keanon Cooper, and Minnesota’s Scott Epke fell on the ball to stop another drive deep into Minnesota territory.

In the fourth quarter, with the wind at his back, Wettstein extended the lead to 17-3 with a 43-yard field goal with only 3:20 left.

Syracuse finally found the end zone with under a minute left. Marcus Sales, who had 25 receptions for 350 yards in the Orange’s first three games of the season, finally caught his first two passes, the latter for a 14-yard touchdown. An onside kick wasn’t successful, and the Gophers ran out the clock to up their record to 4-0 going into the conference season, with Minnesota heading to Iowa for its Big Ten opener.

Gopher Holes: Hill, who wore 51 in memory of former teammate Gary Tinsley, led Minnesota with 10 tackles. Lemon set a new career record for receptions for Syracuse, breaking the team mark of 139 held by Scott Schwedes and Shelby Hill. He has now caught a pass in 19 straight games. Nassib had passed for more than 300 yards in the first three games of the season, but the Gophers held him to 228 yards.

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