Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise “Bucky” Irving combined for 273 rushing yards and each averaged more than six yards per carry as the Minnesota Golden Gophers beat up on the West Virginia Mountaineers en route to a season-ending 18-6 win in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
Minnesota’s defense dominated in the early going, forcing West Virginia to go three-and-out on their first two possessions of the game. But the Gophers’ offense struggled to capitalize, missing a 32-yard field goal attempt on their opening drive. They made it into the red zone on their second possession but Ky Thomas fumbled the ball at the six-yard line and West Virginia recovered. Finally, Minnesota opened the second quarter with a score, handing the ball off to Daniel Faalele for a two-yard touchdown. The 6’9”, 380-lb. offensive tackle was lined up at fullback and rumbled into the end zone for his first career touchdown. The Gophers made it 8-0 with a fake PAT attempt that saw Brock Annexstad scamper into the end zone for the two-point conversion.
Minnesota brought in the big man to score— ESPN (@espn) December 29, 2021
Daniel Faalele is 6'9 380 lbs! pic.twitter.com/hQsye0FAS4
Unfortunately, West Virginia responded by putting together their best offensive drive of the first half. The Mountaineers marched 75 yards in 12 plays, capped by a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jarret Doege on 4th & Goal. The Gophers had good pass coverage in the end zone but Doege was able to escape pressure and win a sprint to the pylon. West Virginia failed to convert their own two-point attempt, narrowing Minnesota’s lead to 8-6.
After the two teams traded punts, Thomas sparked the Gophers’ offense by gashing the Mountaineers for 50 yards on a toss play, setting up Minnesota with 1st & Goal at the nine-yard line. Two plays later, Thomas punched it in for a five-yard score, extending the Gophers’ lead to 15-6 after the PAT. West Virginia tried to cut into that lead before halftime but safety Michael Dixon intercepted Doege in Minnesota territory on third down with 36 seconds left in the half.
Jarret Doege gets hit while throwing and gets picked off by Michael Dixon! pic.twitter.com/8k9lEU2jeP— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTB_Vids_YT) December 29, 2021
The second half was a bit of a slog, with Matthew Trickett’s 49-yard field goal to make it 18-6 representing the only points scored by either team. With the exception of one drive, the Gophers’ defense dominated from start to finish, limiting the Mountaineers to 66 rushing yards, 140 passing yards, and a touchdown. Minnesota also recorded five sacks, two courtesy of Esezi Otomewo and the other three coming from Boye Mafe, Jah Joyner, and Tyler Nubin.
The field conditions were an unfortunate storyline throughout the game. Chase Field is a domed stadium, but the bowl game organizers decided to open the retractable roof during pregame to accommodate a parachuter and fireworks. Unfortunately, it was raining at that point, so the field — which is a converted baseball field, I might add — was soaked before kickoff. Players from both teams slipped and fell throughout the game. Tanner Morgan slipped and fell after taking a snap at one point, resulting in a phantom sack. Mike Brown-Stephens was running a route when he slipped and fell as a pass from Morgan was headed his way, leading to an interception.
With the win over West Virginia, Minnesota finishes the season 9-4, claiming their fifth straight bowl victory and their third under head coach P.J. Fleck.