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Minnesota Football: Gophers Escape With 23-20 OT Win at Colorado State

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A look back at Saturday's win.

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers decided to wait for a quarter and a half before waking up and realizing that Colorado State was an opponent who was worthy and deserved some respect.  Their first six possessions managed to gain just 28 total yards, 5 punts, zero first downs and one fumble on fourth down.  From that point the Gophers put up 23 points and 385 yards as they did just enough to sneak out of Fort Collins with a 23-20 overtime win over the Rams.

Colorado State was the first team to possess the ball but that offensive possession was short-lived as the reigning Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week, Nick Stevens, threw a pass that was intercepted by Briean Boddy-Calhoun on the first play.  Mitch Leidner and the Gopher offense quickly took the field and also quickly exited with a three-and-out, giving the ball back. This time the Ram offense carved up the Gopher D on the ground marching 79 yards on 7 plays to take the early 0-7 lead.

The rest of the first quarter and first chunk of the second saw these two teams trade punts and turnovers.  Till the Gophers took possession on their own 2 yard line with 8:48 left before the half.  Up to this point the offense had 28 total yards, zero first downs and Leidner was 2/9 passing.  But the inconsistent offense decided to get into a rhythm on this drive.  Rodney Smith started things on the ground, Leidner went 2/4 with both completions resulting in first downs and the offense drove to the CSU 17 yard line before stalling and taking the three points from Ryan Santoso's leg.  One more drive ending in a FG happened before the half and the score at the break was 6-7 in favor of the Rams.

The Gopher radio broadcast mentioned that Coach Kill was a little extra angry and I can only imagine what was said in the locker room, whatever it was...it worked. Rodney Smith rushed for 32 yards on the first two plays of the second half and then Leidner connected with Drew Wolitrasky for a 38 yard touchdown, giving the Gophers a 13-7 lead. Colorado State's first possession of the half showed some promise for them until Jalen Myrick intercepted Stevens to end that drive. Before the start of the fourth quarter the Rams did manage a field goal to go up 13-10 and make things a little more interesting.

To open the fourth, Colorado State's new quarterback Coleman Key completed a pass to Joe Hansley and Hansley took it the rest of the way to the end-zone for a 49 yard touchdown and a four-point lead, 13-17.  Now the Gopher offense had to put together a touchdown drive to win the game.  Their first attempt was a 3-and-out, mostly due to a penalty.  The Gopher D forced a punt and the offense got a second chance.  This time they went 57 yards but the drive ended when Leidner missed a wide open Nick Hart on 3rd and 6.  Santoso came on for the field goal but was wide right.  The Gopher D forced another punt giving the offense a third chance to win it.  Another Gopher 3-and-out.  After another Gopher defensive stop it was time for the fourth attempt at a winning drive on the road.

This time Leidner led the offense 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.  On this drive Leidner looked good, converting a crucial 4th and 6 to Nate Wozniak and capping the drive with a great 22-yard pass to K.J. Maye for the lead with 55 seconds left.  It was an impressive drive, a much needed one after three previous drives failed to come up with any points.

With the help of a very questionable pass interference penalty, Colorado State got themselves into field goal range, tied it and forced overtime.  But overtime was a pretty quick one for the Ram offense.  Like their first play of regulation they turned the ball over on the first play of overtime when Cody Poock knocked the ball loose from Dalyn Dawkins. Scott Ekpe came up with it and the Gopher offense got their turn to win it.

Overtime became the Rodney Smith show.  The freshman got the ball on 5 straight carries, getting his team down to the one where Ryan Santoso won the game with a field goal.  A 23-20 win that was ugly but needed.

The concerns we had after TCU are the same.  Leidner's lack of consistency is brutal, the offensive line was often part of the problem and receivers dropping catch-able passes is not doing anyone any favors.  All three can hold back an offense on their own but together they make things extremely difficult for Minnesota.

Your Defensive Player of the Week

So what were the bright spots of this ugly win?  Offensively, Rodney Smith continued to emerge and establish himself as the teams go-to back.  108 yards on 21 carries for Smith and he came very close to breaking off a couple huge runs.  Drew Wolitarsky also was encouraging today with 9 catches, 114 yards and a touchdown.  Would be nice to see at least one receiver emerge as reliable and Wolitarsky looked good today.

Defensively we have come to expect a lot from the Gopher secondary.  And even without Damaris Travis they performed well and allowed only 142 yards in the air.  But the day belonged to Steven Richardson on the defense.  The true sophomore had 7 tackles and was disruptive in the CSU backfield with three TFLs, one of those being a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.  He is becoming an anchor along that defensive line.

Ultimately a win is a win.  Colorado State is a good team in the Mountain West and we traveled to their house where they hadn't lost in a long time.  Most of us believed it was going to be a close game and it was.  Nobody is bragging about this win, but it is a win.  Moving on to Kent State.