DETROIT – How do you keep the nation’s leading rushing team from running all over you?
Run all over them instead.
That’s what happened Wednesday in the Quick Lane Bowl, when the Gophers used Mohamed Ibrahim’s 224 rushing yards and stifling defense to roll to a 34-10 victory over Georgia Tech at Ford Field.
The Gophers outgained the Yellow Jackets in yards 392-283 — Ibrahim outrushed them 224-206 himself —and won their third consecutive bowl game and first under coach P.J. Fleck.
“He was the hammer the entire game,” Fleck said of Ibrahim, who had a pair of short touchdown runs.
That hammer had a lot of help. Tyler Johnson caught two TDs and the defense came up big again under coordinator Joe Rossi. The Yellow Jackets had averaged 334.9 rushing yards per game, but the Gophers (7-6) held their triple-option run attack to 56 yards in the first half. That helped Minnesota build a 13-0 lead, and Tech (7-6) never got closer than 10 points from there.
The Gophers were especially efficient in the first quarter, when they had the ball for 10 minutes, 40 seconds to Tech’s 4:20 and outgained the Yellow Jackets 124-3 in building a 10-0 lead.
“Our whole game plan was we had to be able to manage the clock; we had to win the time of possession,” Fleck said. “We won it, but not by a lot. Usually, it’s completely opposite when you play a triple-option team. Our players did a great job of moving the chains.”
The Gophers didn’t punt once. They haven’t had to since the second quarter of the Nov. 24 victory at Wisconsin.
“I told [punter Jacob] Herbers before the game, ‘Hey, dude, I love you, but you’re not punting today,’ ” Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan said.
Morgan proved prophetic, as the Gophers went 7-for-10 on third-down situations and went 5-for-5 in red-zone trips, including two short field goals by Emmit Carpenter.
The Gophers were in control from the start, winning the coin toss and choosing to receive. They got a 31-yard field goal on that opening possession, and the Minnesota defense quickly showed it was ready, too. The Gophers forced Georgia Tech to go three-and-out on its first two possessions, and Morgan’s 18-yard TD pass to Johnson made it 10-0.
“The first two drives, they didn’t have any first downs,” Gophers linebacker Thomas Barber said. “We were like, ‘Wow, this is just like practice.’ ”
Said Yellow Jackets quarterback TaQuon Marshall: “We didn’t come ready to play. They did.”
Given 13 practice sessions to prepare for the triple option, Rossi’s defense continued its late-season surge. In the four games with Rossi in charge in place of the fired Robb Smith, the Gophers have given up only 14.8 points per game.
A 12-yard punt by Georgia Tech’s Pressley Harvin III set up the Gophers at the Yellow Jackets 23, and though the drive stalled, a 27-yard field goal by Carpenter made it 13-0 early in the second quarter.
Georgia Tech got a 44-yard field goal from Wesley Wells on the final play of the first half and got the ball to start the third quarter. But any hope the Yellow Jackets had quickly disappeared when Harvin’s 18-yard punt set up the Gophers at their 40.
Morgan found a wide-open Chris Autman-Bell for a 41-yard gain — it looked as if he might have scored, but he was ruled out at the 3-yard line. No matter; on the next play, Ibrahim powered through the middle for a 20-3 lead with 8:24 left in the quarter.
Georgia Tech made it 20-10 on Nathan Cottrell’s 20-yard TD run with 55 seconds left in the third quarter, but Ibrahim answered quickly, with the redshirt freshman running free 58 yards to the Tech 18. Five plays later, his 1-yard TD run made it 27-10.
“He plays his heart out every single time he goes out there,” Morgan said of Ibrahim. “He’s an animal. I don’t know what other word to describe him.”
The Gophers made it 34-10 with 6:19 to play when Morgan hit Johnson for a 30-yard touchdown. Johnson’s 12th TD catch this season broke the school record.
Afterward, the Gophers reflected on a season that ended on a high note, with wins in three of their last four games, including a triumph at Wisconsin to gain Paul Bunyan’s Axe and a bowl victory.
“It’s taking us to the next right step that we need to go,” Morgan said. “We’re headed in the right direction.”
Said Fleck: “I’m really proud of our players. It’s been a year that has been full of teaching moments, and I think that’s the most important thing.”