If you were worried that five-win teams might embarrass themselves in the bowl season, think again. Minnesota (6-7) became the third 5-7 team to score a bowl victory with a 21-13 victory over Central Michigan (7-6) in the Quick Lane Bowl Monday. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner scored on a quarterback keeper right up the middle fo Central Michigan’s defense in the fourth quarter to take a 21-14 lead following a two-point conversion. The game, which featured four lead changes, improved the Big Ten to 2-1 this bowl season with both wins coming from teams entering the postseason with a losing record of 5-7 (Nebraska, Minnesota).
Cooper Rush scored the first touchdown of the game in the second quarter to give Central Michigan a 7-3 lead on the first play of the quarter, but the Gophers answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive. Leidner completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to KJ Maye to retake the three-point advantage. Minnesota tacked on three points midway through the third quarter on a 42-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso.
Down by one, 14-13, Minnesota put together a 13-play scoring drive capped by Leidner’s touchdown run. To go up by seven points, Minnesota opted to go for a two-point conversion. As coverage appeared to break down on the conversion attempt, Leidner sent a pass to the back of the end zone and Maye somehow got his hands on it to tack on the two extra points. Central Michigan appeared to have something working on the ensuing possession, but the momentum was lost when Rush had a pass intercepted by Briean Boddy-Calhoun at the Gophers’ 35-yard line with just over two minutes remaining in the game. That allowed Minnesota to force Central Michigan to burn their remaining timeouts.
Minnesota won its first bowl game since the 2004 season, when Glen Mason was the head coach of the Gophers. Minnesota had lost seven consecutive bowl game appearances since then. This is also the first bowl victory for Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys, who took over for the retired Jerry Kill in the middle of the season. Kill was on the Minnesota sideline as a special guest, and this was likely a proud moment for him as well.
Minnesota will kick off the 2016 season at home against Oregon State on Thursday, September 1, 2016. Central Michigan opens at home on the same night, against Presbyterian.