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Minnesota Football: Gophers Beat Indiana 42-39 in a Wild Finish

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Hill made the defensive play of the season to secure Minnesota's third straight Big Ten victory in a wildly entertaining and heart-pounding 42-39 victory. Hill's heads-up fumble recovery saved a game the Gophers looked to have won going away midway through the third quarter, yet if it wasn't for Hill, it may have been Indiana going away with the victory.

The Hoosiers, who had scored touchdowns on four straight possessions, were driving for a fifth facing a 2nd and goal from Minnesota's nine yard line with just 25 seconds to go. IU QB Nate Sudfeld, who played almost every snap the entire second half after replacing starter Tre Roberson, threw a pass to the flats for tailback Tevin Coleman that went behind him, off his shoulder pad, and fell to the turf. Hill realized the pass had gone backwards making it a live ball, scooped it up and ran it back 21 yards before he was tackled and Minnesota's offense could run out the final 14 seconds. It was a very heady play from the senior, and he's never made a better or more timely one in Maroon and Gold.

Otherwise, the defenses were largely overshadowed by a monster day for the offenses, which came in somewhat surprising fashion for both as Minnesota had by far their highest passing output of the season while Indiana had easily their best rushing game of the year. Minnesota put up 573 total yards, including 325 passing while IU's high powered offense put up 496, including a season-high 227 rushing at 6.1 yards per carry.

Minnesota junior tailback David Cobb surpassed his career high rushing game from last week against Nebraska with his third consecutive 100 yard game with 188 yards rushing (at 6.5 yards per carry!) and another 48 receiving. Sophomore QB Philip Nelson had a career day of his own completing 16 of 23 passes for 298 yards and four- count 'em FOUR- touchdown passes, including the game winner on a 50 yard strike to TE Maxx Williams. Senior WR Derek Engel caught four passes for 97 yards and 2 TD's to lead all Minnesota receivers while true freshman Donovahn Jones had a very encouraging performance with 3 catches for 59 yards.

Neither team would name a starting QB prior to the game as Nelson got the call and led the Gophers to a TD on the opening drive that saw a variety of plays, including the Gophers' first flea-flicker of the season that resulted in a 40 yard completion to Engel. Nelson and Engel hooked up again a few plays later for a 10 yard TD pass on 3rd and 9 for the game's opening score.

Tre Roberson started for IU and led the Hoosiers to the next 13 straight points, including a TD just three plays after a Minnesota fumble. However, Indiana's offense managed only one more field goal before the half and was replaced by Sudfeld to start the third quarter.

Nelson struggled for a few series in the first half which brought on Mitch Leidner, who led a scoring drive that he capped off with a rushing TD to give Minnesota the lead back at 14-13. Nelson then came back in and threw two more TD passes before the half, including a 33 yarder for Engel's second of the day.

Cobb ran in his first score of the day from 27 yards out for Minnesota's 28th unanswered point to lead 35-13 with 6:24 left in the third. At this point it looked both figuratively and literally like Minnesota would run away with the game. Instead, Indiana finally got their offense going while their defense tightened up, scoring the next 26 straight points themselves to take a 39-35 lead with just 5:33 to go.

Having stalled on their past three drives and trailing for the first time since early in the first quarter, Nelson led a five play scoring drive that started with two Cobb runs. On 3rd-and-5 from his own 30, Nelson found the freshman Jones open 19 yards down the sideline to keep the drive alive. Two plays later he found Williams open down the seam, and the big redshirt frosh from Waconia rumbled 50 yards for the score.

Nelson left the game briefly early in the 4th quarter with an undisclosed leg injury, but would return the next series. The Gophers unfortunately have likely lost starting center Jon Christenson to what looked like a serious leg injury in the first half. He lay on the field for close to eight minutes as he was attended to by the training staff before he was carted off the field. There were no updates on his condition but he did not return to the game.

The Gopher's seventh win on the season gives head coach Jerry Kill and his staff the most victories in their three seasons at Minnesota, and has them one win away from at least a .500 finish in the Big Ten. Minnesota (7-2, 3-2 B1G) returns home to host Penn State (5-3, 2-2) next Saturday.