During preseason practice, Minnesota worked on improving their ball control and its ground game. After Thursday’s 24-17 win over MTSU, the Golden Gophers accomplished both of their goals.
Antwan Davis led the Blue Raiders with 12 tackles, including a half-sack, in Thursday's season opener versus Minnesota. Photo courtesy MTSU Athletics.
The Big Ten conference member dominated time of possession by holding the ball for more than 45 minutes.
The Blue Raider defense also gave up more than 250 yards rushing for the first time since last October’s loss to Troy. Minnesota finished with 281 yards on the ground. That was the first time they ran for more than 200 yards in a game since 2007. Junior running back Duane Bennett led the way with 189 yards and was the first Golden Gopher to run for more than 150 yards in a game in three years.
“They came here to run the ball,” MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill said. “When they are as big as they are, they are going to control the clock. That was their strength and they used it.”
The winning score came with 3:09 remaining when senior fullback John Hoese punched it in from a yard out for his third touchdown of the game. The drive took over nine minutes off the clock.
Minnesota tied the game with 14:11 left on the clock with a 20-yard field goal. The Golden Gophers went on a 97-yard drive that began on their one-yard line and lasted more than six and a half minutes.
“We are not going to point fingers,” senior running back Philip Tanner said. “The defense played well and we did not convert on third downs like we needed to. There is always a positive and we have to take everything and move forward to next week’s game against Austin Peay.”
The Golden Gophers opened up the game by using their size advantage on the offensive line. Ten of the first 11 plays were runs. The only pass thrown during the drive was incomplete in the end zone. However, the Blue Raiders were called for pass interference. Two plays later, Hoese scored from one yard out for the first points of the game.
Three Minnesota possessions later, the Blue Raiders were called again for pass interference in the end zone. By NCAA rule, the ball was placed on the MTSU 2-yard line. Hoese punched it in from that distance to put the Golden Gophers up 14-0 with 13:48 left in the second quarter.
After a missed Minnesota field goal with 1:20 left in the second quarter, sophomore starting quarterback Logan Kilgore drove the Blue Raiders 77 yards in only 44 seconds. He finished up the drive with a rocket 22-yard touchdown pass to junior wide out Sancho McDonald with 36 seconds remaining in the first half. The extra point by junior placekicker Alan Gendreau tied the score at 14. That was the score at the half.
“I think he was competitive,” Stockstill said of Kilgore’s performance. “I like our offense. Logan did a nice job. He made some nice throws, but I thought he did a nice job. He was unlucky on the interception off the screen pass. For his first college start, he did not back down and showed great toughness.”
Kilgore finished his first start going 13-for-18 for 172 yards. He also threw a touchdown and an interception.
It was also back to the future for fifth-year senior Phillip Tanner. He lined up behind center in the “Wildcat” formation and scored from seven yards out to put MTSU on the board with 4:57 left in the second quarter. It was Tanner’s first touchdown since last September’s win over Memphis.
“It felt real good,” Tanner said of his touchdown. “It was a great experience.” He finished with 82 yards on the ground.
Gendreau kicked a 31-yard field goal with 12:44 left in the third to give the Blue Raiders the lead.
Next Saturday, the Blue Raiders return home against in-state rival Austin Peay at 6 p.m.