Saturday’s anticipated matchup between Middle Tennessee’s high-scoring offense and the Gophers’ stout defense didn’t follow the script.
Instead of seeing Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill and wide receiver Richie James running up and down the field, the TCF Bank Stadium patrons got to see understudies struggle against the Gophers defense.
Stockstill didn’t play because of a cracked sternum and a collarbone injury he suffered the previous week against Syracuse. And James injured an ankle in the first quarter, which limited him to two rushes for 25 yards and one reception for minus-2 yards.
“I was pretty upset about it,’’ Stockstill said, “but that is part of the game and part of playing the position.’’
The loss of Stockstill was a big blow to the Blue Raiders, who lost 34-3. The junior is in his third year as a starter and has passed for 7,714 yards and 65 touchdowns in his career. He has passed for 435 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Stockstill’s replacement was sophomore John Urzua, who went 19-for-34 for 135 with two interceptions, one that Gophers safety Jacob Huff returned 67 yards for a touchdown.
“That quarterback coming in got put in a tough position,’’ Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said.
With Stockstill and James out, the Gophers had to alter their game plan a bit.
“There were a few adjustments,’’ said Gophers linebacker Thomas Barber, who had the other interception of Urzua and led Minnesota with nine tackles. “We did have the game planned around No. 3 [James]; he’s a great player. And their quarterback is very accurate. I didn’t find out he was hurt until we got on the field.’’
The Gophers shut out an opponent in the second half for the third time in as many games. They have allowed only 24 points this season.
“It’s exciting,’’ Huff said. “What it says about our defense is that we come ready to play. That little break between the halves gets us more fired up.’’
• Gophers center Jared Weyler did not dress and had a boot on his left foot. Conner Olson moved from left guard to center, and Quinn Oseland started at right guard.
Fleck said he is hopeful Weyler can return for the Gophers’ next game, the Big Ten opener against Maryland on Sept. 30 at TCF Bank Stadium.
• Cornerback Zo Craighton had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter because of a leg injury. He had five tackles and two pass breakups.
• Fleck said he probably will have to use true freshman cornerback Rey Estes this season, which would end the chance for him to redshirt this year.
• Defensive end Tai’yon Devers, who did not dress for the first two games because of undisclosed reasons, returned to the lineup.
• The Gophers improved to 3-0 all-time against Middle Tennessee. They also stretched their nonconference winning streak to seven games.
• Gophers running backs Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary each rushed for 107 yards, the first time two Gophers have surpassed 100 in a game since Smith and Shannon Brooks against Penn State last year.
• Fleck improved to 23-3 in his past 26 games. Entering Saturday, only Alabama’s Nick Saban (24-1) and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (23-2) were better in their past 25; San Diego State’s Rocky Long was 22-3.