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.
Auburn won a game against Oregon in Texas. Auburn won a game at Texas A&M. But Auburn’s undefeated season got stuck in The Swamp. No. 10 Florida (6-0, 3-0 SEC) handed No. 7 Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC) a 24-13 loss fueled by the Gators defense making life tough for Auburn quarterback Bo Nix from the start of the game.
Nix completed just 11 of his 27 pass attempts for 145 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions. Nix was routinely being chased down by Florida defensive linemen in the backfield and too often was unable to make something miraculous happen to save the Tigers. A mix of freshman mistakes and luck drying up for the Tigers may have been bound to happen at some point, and Florida was there to make sure it happened.
The Gators had a scare at the quarterback position of a different kind. Kyle Trask, who passed for 234 yards and two touchdowns, left the game in the second quarter and seemed to be in immense pain and agony after being hit bya defender in the leg at the end of the play (it wasn’t a dirty hit, just how the player was falling down while being blocked). Trask left the field and immediately went to the locker room for medical assistance, but he jogged back on the field with a brace on and returned to the game before halftime.
Auburn hung around for a while despite having a rough offensive performance (four turnovers, 269 yards of offense) but Lamical Perine put the game out of reach when the Gators running back took off for an 88-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, giving the Gators a 24-13 advantage. Perine rushed for 130 yards in the game but had to be patient for his chance to break the big play.
Florida was not without their share of mishaps though. Florida turned the football over four times, all by way of a fumble. Florida also had just four third-down conversions in 15 tries, but Auburn was a lowly 2-for-14 on third down. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins for the Gators, but it was a win over a top 10 team at the end of the day and that is all that mattered.
Now Florida gets ready for a mega matchup on the road next week. The Gators head to Baton Rouge to face No. 5 LSU. Today’s Auburn game was the first of three in four games against opponents that could be ranked in the top 10. Florida faces No. 3 Georgia on November 2 in Jacksonville.
After falling one game behind Alabama and LSU in the SEC West Division standings, Auburn will look to bounce back after a bye week when they return to action at Arkansas in two weeks.
Auburn could be about to lose a backup quarterback from the program. Malik Willis has added his name to the NCAA transfer portal, according to 247 Sports, as he begins the process of potentially leaving the Tigers for another opportunity.
By entering his name in the transfer portal, Willis can now have official contact with other programs looking to recruit him to their school. Although Willis can still pull his name out of the portal at any time and remain at Auburn, that does not appear to be an option for Willis at this point.
A three-star recruit of Auburn in the Class of 2017, Willis has two seasons of eligibility to use over the next three years. If Willis transfers to another FBS program, he will have to sit out the 2019 season before being eligible to play again beginning in 2020.
Auburn’s quarterback situation will rely on youth and inexperience with redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix. Auburn is looking to replace Jarrett Stidham, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. Willis was once in line to be the top backup to Stidham with a chance to succeed him, but his stock has slipped over the past year to the point where Gus Malzahn wrapping up the spring with Gatewood and Nix as his top passers going into the summer and fall.