BLOOMINGTON, IND. – The Gophers went from dominant to desperate Saturday.
They had seen a 22-point lead evaporate against Indiana’s warp-speed offense. They had failed on a fake punt in their own territory, setting the Hoosiers up for the go-ahead touchdown with 5½ minutes left.
Philip Nelson had returned from a hip pointer to throw his fourth touchdown pass, a 50-yarder to Maxx Williams that put the Gophers back ahead by three points with just over 3 minutes to play.
But with 25 seconds remaining, the Hoosiers were at the Gophers 9-yard line. Acting head coach and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys called timeout and rolled the dice, using a blitz his defense had practiced all week but hadn’t used all game.
All of a sudden, Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld misfired on a backward screen pass to Tevin Coleman and Gophers linebacker Aaron Hill grabbed the gift-wrapped fumble, securing a 42-39 triumph at Memorial Stadium.
“It was crazy,” Nelson said. “I was sitting there praying that something would go our way, and the Lord was good to us tonight.”
For the third consecutive week, the Gophers (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) delivered an upset victory. Both their overall and Big Ten win totals are the most in the three-season Jerry Kill era.
Indiana (3-5, 1-3) entered as nine-point favorites, based largely on an offense that had averaged 42.4 points per game, ranking eighth in the country.
The Gophers had a 35-13 lead with 6:24 remaining in the third quarter, but the Hoosiers reeled off the next 26 points. For decades, Minnesota has seen so many games like this turn into losses.
“You look back on these last two years, and there were so many missed plays — missed wins,” senior defensive back Brock Vereen said. “Two years ago, we’re not winning these games.”
David Cobb carried 29 times for 188 yards, becoming the first Gopher to surpass the 100-yard rushing mark for the third consecutive game since Amir Pinnix in 2006. Cobb called the game’s ending “probably the longest minute of my life.”
Nelson made his first start since the Iowa game on Sept. 28 and completed 16 of 23 passes for 298 yards. He suffered the hip pointer on a 7-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
After kneeling to the ground in pain, he hobbled to the locker room and Mitch Leidner took over at quarterback. But Nelson returned for the Gophers’ next possession and finished the game.
“They took me in the locker room, and I got a couple shots and came back out, and I felt like a new person,” Nelson said. “But I think it’s already starting to wear off a little. It’s just whatever it takes, that’s just what you’ve got to do to win.”
The fake punt call came with the Gophers leading 35-33 and about 6½ minutes remaining. Minnesota tried a reverse fake on fourth-and-5, and when the Hoosiers stopped Jalen Myrick 2 yards short of the first down, they took over at the Gophers 39-yard line. Less than a minute later, Sudfeld hit Cody Latimer with a 30-yard pass and Indiana led 39-35.
“Before anybody asks me on the fake punt, it was a group decision,” Kill said. “It didn’t quite work today, but the headsets, we were all on there, and we all were going the same direction.
“The bottom line is they were moving the offense. We had to break serve somewhere in there. We tried to do it, and I give our kids credit for keeping their composure.”
Kill said when Williams then raced in for the Gophers’ go-ahead touchdown, someone half-jokingly suggested the tight end should have gone down at the 5-yard line, just to give Indiana less time to come back. The Hoosiers seemed sure to score another touchdown when Claeys called timeout with 25 seconds left.
“You always keep one play in the book for late in the game,” Claeys said, “so we made the call, and the timeout was so they all knew what they were going to do on that call.”
Vereen blitzed on the play, but saw Coleman swinging out for the screen pass and went to guard him.
“I could tell he was about to reach for the ball, so I pushed, and I thought the ball went out of bounds, so I stopped,” Vereen said. “I don’t know what [Coleman] was thinking, but he stopped, too.
“And fortunately Aaron [Hill] was the smartest guy on the field and he was able to scoop it up and seal it.”
The Gophers ran two plays to run out the clock, and the celebration was on.