Tyler Johnson

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No. 18 Minnesota upsets No. 12 Auburn in Outback Bowl for most wins since 1904

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Minnesota sophomore Bryce Witham was far from a household name, even in the state of Minnesota. But bowl season can make a hero and a program legend out of anyone at any given moment. Williams entered the Outback Bowl with just one reception in two games this season. He ended the season with three catches, and his two receptions in the Outback Bowl could not have been more significant as No. 18 Minnesota (11-2) scored a 31-24 victory over No. 12 Auburn (9-4) in the Outback Bowl.

Witham caught his only touchdown of the season, and his fourth-down reception late in the fourth quarter helped to allow Minnesota to run out the clock on the Tigers. For Minnesota, the underdog mentality was well suited and perhaps there was no player better to thrive in the moment the way Witham did. Minnesota dominated Aubrun in the stat sheet with close to 500 yards of offense against a solid defensive team from the SEC. Auburn managed just 232 yards of offense, and just 56 of those yards came on the ground.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan passed for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Both of Morgan’s touchdowns were thrown to Tyler Johnson, who caught 12 passes for 204 yards. Young rising running back Mohamed Ibrahim led all players with 140 rushing yards, including some hard runs at the end of the game to pick up a first down and contribute to milking the clock in its entirety. Auburn’s Bo Nix was limited to 17-of-26 for 176 yards and a touchdown.

The win was Minnesota’s second striaght postseason bowl victory under PJ Fleck. It was also Minnesota’s first bowl victory over an SEC team since beating Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl. The Gophers have won each of their last three bowl games played, dating back to 2016. Minnesota’s 11 wins this season are the most for a single season since the Gophers won 13 games in 1904. Minnesota’s only other seasons with 10 or more wins came in 1900, 1903, 1905 and 2003.

Although this season may have fallen shy of playing for a Big Ten title in what has been a dream season for the Gophers, Minnesota continues to look to have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the program, beginning in 2020 as a rising contender in the Big Ten picture.

Minnesota will begin the 2020 season with high expectations. The season will begin at home against FAU in non-conference play on Thursday, Sept. 3. Auburn will begin its 2020 season two days later on Sept. 5 with a home game against Alcorn State.

Early ‘catch of the year’ submission gives Minnesota halftime lead on Auburn in Outback Bowl

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Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson has taken the lead for the catch of the year in 2020, and it came in the final minute of the first half in the Outback Bowl. A one-handed snag in the back of the end zone to give Minnesota a 24-17 lead in the final minute of the half is a play you have to see to believe.

Video replay was needed to uphold the call on the field, with no indisputable evidence strong enough to overturn the play.

Auburn got off to a solid start with a defensive turnover and a quick three points. After Minnesota answered with a field goal, Noah Igbinoghene returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown to regain the lead for the Tigers.

Minnesota then capitalized on a special teams error by Auburn by recovering a fumble on a punt. Three plays later, Mohamed Ibrahim broke loose for a 16-yard run to the end zone to even the game at 10-10 in the first quarter.

Minnesota took the lead in the second quarter with a 92-yard touchdown drive. On 4th and 2 from the Auburn 1, and after a pair of video replays nixed two touchdown rulings on successive plays, Seth Green completed a pass to Bryce Witham to put the Gophers in front for the first time.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix took advantage of a breakdown in Minnesota’s coverage for Auburn’s own fourth-down touchdown. Nix found a wide-open Sal Cannella over the middle with no defender anywhere near him. Canella easily reached the end zone to tie the game at 17-17 on the ensuing drive.

No. 20 Iowa hands No. 8 Minnesota first loss of the season

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It has been said hopes and dreams can go to Kinnick Stadium and never walk out. While that may be a bit of an overstatement for this particular situation, Kinnick Stadium did put bruise up another Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff hopeful’s season. No. 20 Iowa (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) was the first team to hand No. 8 Minnesota (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) a loss this season with a 23-19 victory Saturday in Iowa City.

Iowa led Minnesota 20-6 at halftime but managed just one field goal in the fourth quarter to extend its lead to 10 points midway through the quarter. The field goal by Keith Duncan came at the end of a 10-play drive that killed off a little more than four minutes of precious game time. Minnesota’s chance to make things a one-possession game on the ensuing drive looked good when Rodney Smith crossed the goal line late in the fourth quarter, but a missed extra-point attempt by Brock Walker kept things just out of reach for the Gophers.

It wasn’t for lack of effort, however. Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan passed for 368 yards and a touchdown, with Tyler Johnson hauling in nine passes for 170 yards. Rashod Bateman had six catches for 98 yards. Iowa’s Nate Stanley passed for 173 yards and two touchdowns in the win. AJ Epenesa led a ferocious defensive attack for Iowa that gave up some plays in the second half but slammed the door shut on the Gophers when it mattered the most. Epenesa had a game that reminded those watching just why he is one of the top defensive linemen in the nation.

In the grand scheme of things, Minnesota still has a path to its first Big Ten championship game. And if Minnesota does reach the championship game with just one loss, a victory in the conference championship game (against Ohio State or Penn State) would make for a strong case at the end of the season worth discussing for the College Football Playoff. But for now, PJ Fleck and his program must deal with rebounding after their first loss since Nov. 17, 2018 (Northwestern, 24-14).

Iowa will be home again next week to face Illinois. The Illini have already clinched bowl eligibility, so next week’s game could be more about jockeying for bowl position in the Big Ten bowl pool with neither team in the running for the division. Minnesota will play at Northwestern next week for a great opportunity for a rebound win. The Wildcats have won just two games all season, with their second coming earlier in the day with a blowout of UMass.

Minnesota still owns a one-game lead in the division ahead of Wisconsin. It is possible the division championship will be on the line in the regular-season finale between Minnesota and Wisconsin, a game won by the Gophers last season.

No. 17 Minnesota makes B1G statement in upset of No. 4 Penn State

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The No. 17 Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) didn’t buckle under the pressure of playing the most anticipated home game in program history in decades, if not just generations. Minnesota improved to 9-0 for the first time since going 13-0 in 1904 with a 31-26 victory against No. 4 Penn State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten).

PJ Fleck came to Minnesota with his Row the Boat mentality, and it continues to pay dividends. Minnesota was the more effective offense from start to finish as Penn State’s defense played its worst game of the season. Penn State’s receivers couldn’t hold on to passes when Sean Clifford was able to get a good pass off, but the Gophers secondary continued to do their part to make sure Penn State couldn’t find big plays through the air, as the Gophers have done all season. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Tanner Morgan proved a connection with Rashod Bateman was one of the most reliable connections in the Big Ten, and Penn State couldn’t handle it. Bateman caught seven passes for 203 yards and a touchdown, with first downs on nearly all of his other receptions. Tyler Johnson also went for over 100 yards on seven receptions from Morgan, who ended his day with three touchdowns.

Minnesota’s touchdown drives were no fluke either. The Gophers scored two first-quarter touchdowns on a Penn State defense that had not allowed a first-quarter touchdown all season. Minnesota scored on drives of 95, 87, 61, and 75 yards, with two of those long touchdown drives coming off Penn State interceptions deep in the Minnesota end of the field. Antoine Winfield Jr. intercepted Clifford twice inside the Minnesota 10-yard line (one on a deep pass over the middle of the opening drive of the game and the other when Penn State was near the red zone and about to kick a field goal at the very least).

After Penn State cut the Minnesota lead down to five points with a Journey Brown touchdown run in the fourth quarter, the defense had their best stop of the game, giving Penn State one last chance to steal the win. But Clifford was intercepted a third time, this time by Jordon Howden just inside the end zone.

The outcome of the game may not have a dramatic impact in how the Big Ten championship picture plays out, because Minnesota still would have had a lead in the division race and Penn State’s Big Ten East odds likely would still be determined by what happens in a few weeks at Ohio State had Penn State won this game, but there is no taking away from the importance of this game for both teams. For Minnesota, the Gophers are now one giant step closer to playing in their first Big Ten Championship Game. Minnesota will own a two-game lead on either Iowa or Wisconsin, depending on which team wins that head-to-head matchup this afternoon. Minnesota still has to play both Iowa and Wisconsin, but having a minimum of a two-game lead in the division race with just three games remaining is a wonderful spot for Fleck and his program to be sitting.

Penn State, fresh off their highest ranking in the CFB Playoff rankings, will take a fall out of the top four but will still get a chance to settle the division race with Ohio State in two weeks. A spot in the New Years Six lineup still remains a likely destination for the Nittany Lions, but there is some work to do in order to re-enter a playoff spot.

Penn State’s next game will be at home next week against Indiana. The Hoosiers, who will travel to Happy Valley with seven wins already this season (7-2), will be coming off a bye week.

Minnesota goes on the road next week to play at No. 18 Iowa. The Hawkeyes will be coming off a road game at Wisconsin, a critical game in the Big Ten West Division standings. Minnesota may be about to row their boats right on down to Indianapolis.

Golden upset in the making? No. 17 Minnesota leading No. 4 Penn State 24-13 at halftime

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Don’t let the rankings fool you, because it looks like Minnesota has been the team ranked fourth in the nation by the College Football Playoff selection committee after one half of play. No. 17 Minnesota has simply been dominant against No. 4 Penn State after 30 minutes and they reach halftime fired up with a 24-13 lead on the Nittany Lions.

The first three minutes of the game could not have gone much better for Minnesota. The Gophers forced the first turnover of the game when Antoine Winfield Jr. picked off a deep ball thrown up for grabs by Sean Clifford at the Minnesota five-yard line. Minnesota cashed in on the turnover in a big way with Tanner Morgan completed a 66-yard pass to a streaking Radhod Bateman, who had nothing but daylight in front of him after a late defender missed a tackle on the sideline. It was the first touchdown allowed by Penn State in the first quarter this season, and it was a big one.

Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons did not start the game for the Nittany Lions. according to the update from the broadcast, Parsons missed the start of the game for what was described as a “behavioral modification issue.” Parsons got on the field on Penn State’s second defensive series. Even with Parsons back on the field, Minnesota’s offense was not intimidated. After Journey Brown ran for a game-tying 45-yard touchdown for Penn State, Minnesota’s offense drove 87 yards for a second touchdown in the first quarter. A bubble screen from Morgan to Chris Autman-Bell went 21 yards to regain the lead, 14-7.

Winfield picked off Clifford again in the second quarter to kill a promising drive for Penn State that was one play from settling for a field goal at worst. A big return on the interception gave the confident Gophers offense good field position, and a 38-yard touchdown reception by Tyler Johnson gave Minnesota a 21-10 lead midway through the second quarter. After the defense forced a three-and-out on Penn State’s ensuing possession, Minnesota tacked on a field goal by Brock Walker to take a 14-point advantage, Penn State’s biggest deficit of the season.

Minnesota gets the ball to start the second half.