Gophers' late heroics beat Fresno State
MINNEAPOLIS—The Minnesota Gophers lost their best offensive player in the first quarter, but their best defensive player saved the game in the fourth.
Minnesota survived standout senior running Rodney Smith's leg injury early, and safety Antoine Winfield Jr.'s interception in the end zone late helped Minnesota edge Fresno State 21-14 Saturday night, Sept. 8, at TCF Bank Stadium.
Without Smith, one of the Gophers' all-time best running backs, Minnesota's youthful offense struggled to generate much offense outside of Seth Green in the Wildcat formation.
Green scored two rushing touchdowns, including a 3-yard run to retake the lead with 3:28 left in the game. The former quarterback, who switched to receiver this fall, then threw a two-point conversion pass to Ko Kieft.
Minnesota's defense, which shut out Fresno State for nearly three quarters, gave up two touchdowns on consecutive drives. After Green's go-ahead score, Fresno State drove down to Minnesota's 4 when a halfback pass was picked off by Winfield.
Minnesota (2-0) improved to 18-1 in non-conference games since the start of the 2012 season. They were 2-0 under head coach P.J. Fleck for a second straight season.
The Gophers needed two long field goals from Emmit Carpenter (53 and 50 yards) to build their lead into the fourth quarter.
Fresno State (1-1) has been forecast to be a darling in the Group of Five conferences after a 10-4 season in 2017 and a resounding 79-13 win over Idaho last Saturday. Minnesota cut that down Saturday.
Fresno State first sliced into Minnesota's 10-0 lead in the third quarter. Gophers receiver Tyler Johnson was stripped after a short pass. The Bulldogs recovered at Minnesota's 17 and scored a touchdown on a bootleg from Marcus McMaryion to Jared Rice four plays later.
The Gophers' defense had an 88-minute shutout streak ended; it dated to the first half of the season opener against New Mexico State.
Without Smith, the Gophers fed Fresno State a steady diet of Green rushes from the Wildcat formation. On an 80-yard drive, Green had six carries for 19 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run to give Gophers a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
It was Green's third rushing touchdown from the formation this season. His opening two scores came in the 48-10 win over New Mexico State on Aug. 30.
The Gophers didn't score on their next two drives, but Carpenter's career-high-tying 53-yard field goal gave Minnesota a 10-0 lead with less than a minute left in the half.