No. 17 Minnesota holds Rutgers to 1 touchdown on homecoming
The Rutgers football team welcomed an undefeated No. 17 Minnesota team for the first-ever meeting between the two inter-division Big Ten teams in Piscataway.
The Scarlet Knights (1-6, 0-5) held the Golden Gophers (7-0, 4-0) without a score until 1:20 was remaining in the first quarter, but Minnesota would command the driver's seat for the entire 60 minutes of the game en route to a 42-7 road victory at SHI Stadium.
Like last weekend in Indiana, Rutgers started with the ball on offense. Unlike last Saturday, the Knights did not fumble for a defensive touchdown, but redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Langan threw the ball for a 5-yard gain to a different option, sophomore wide receiver Eddie Lewis, who made this first start of his career.
Lewis saw time as a wideout in all 12 games last season as a true freshman, tallying 24 receptions for 173 yards. Against the Gophers, he had a season-high 18 receiving yards while joining wideouts junior Bo Melton and true freshman Isaiah Washington as a starter.
As the storyline has been this season, Langan's counterpart had no trouble leading offensive surges against Rutgers' defense. The only difference in this game was that defensive coordinator Andy Buh's unit played a hard-fought physical first half.
On Minnesota's first drive of the game, the Knights' defense held the Gophers' Tanner Morgan without a passing yard and forced a three-and-out. Morgan was under consistent pressure by sophomore defensive lineman Mike Tverdov on the following offensive drive while first-time starter redshirt freshman linebacker Deion Jennings hit the Minnesota quarterback for a 3-yard loss.
Jennings, who has played in all seven games this season, totaled a season-high six tackles. He started in place of junior linebacker and team captain Tyreek Maddox-Williams.
"I think that Buh just thought that, you know, change things up and give us an opportunity to make some plays and I thought he played really well," said interim head coach Nunzio Campanile on Jennings.
The Gophers would not get on the board until approximately a minute and a half was left in the opening quarter. This was the first time this season that Rutgers held an opponent scoreless that late in the first 15 minutes.
What was working for Minnesota early on was the running game. A three-man backfield consisting of Gophers Rodney Smith, Mohamed Ibrahim and Shannon Brooks consistently found success in the first half, burning the Knights' defense on short runs.
The first touchdown of the day, 1 of 2 for Smith, was a 3-yard run. At the end of the first quarter, Smith had already totaled 44 yards on the ground, losing only 1 yard in that span.
Morgan, whose 1,401 passing yards last season were the second-best in Minnesota history by a freshman, got on the scoreboard late in the second quarter with a 13-yard connection to Rashod Bateman. Bateman finished with 72 receiving yards in this game.
Morgan's favorite target in this game was his typical No. 1 wideout: Tyler Johnson. He finished with 6 catches for 130 yards and a score on a 56-yard reception in the fourth quarter.
For Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck, this weekend's contest served as his own homecoming, a return to the Birthplace of College Football where he was the wide receivers coach under Greg Schiano for two seasons.
Fleck was the wideouts coach for Rutgers' Pinstripe Bowl victory in 2011, a season where it finished 9-4 in the Big East.
"Walking in the tunnel, you get a chance to see Leonte Carroo, Quron Pratt, Keith Lumpkin, Gary Nova and you think back to the days of when I was here and the success we were having and watching how the greatest influence on my life turned it around," Fleck said. "As a coach and watching sustain it over those years, you really kind of think back to those players."
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