Coach P.J. Fleck made official on Monday what appeared to be inevitable Saturday night: Conor Rhoda will be the Gophers’ starting quarterback going forward, beginning with Saturday’s home game against Middle Tennessee.
Rhoda, who had started the first two games but shared the job with Demry Croft, seized control with an efficient performance in a 48-14 rout of Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore. Rhoda completed seven of eight passes for 158 yards, and his 67-yard touchdown hookup with Tyler Johnson in the first quarter put the Gophers on track for a 2-0 start.
“[This] is the first time I watched Conor Rhoda control the football team,” Fleck said Saturday. “… We didn’t ask him to do a ton in the pass game, but we needed to run the football. He executed well. He led better than he ever has.”
Rhoda, a fifth-year senior and former Cretin-Derham Hall standout, led six of the Gophers’ scoring drives. He was 5-for-6 in the first half and threw only two passes, both completions, in the second half as the Gophers turned to their running game and stretched a 20-17 lead to 41-14 by the time Rhoda left the game.
“He was managing really well, going up to his offensive linemen, communicating very well,” said Fleck, who was waiting for either Rhoda or Croft to take command of the job. “At the end, [he was] draining the clock, milking the clock properly, keeping everybody calm.”
Rhoda, who went 12-for-21 for 176 yards and a TD with an end zone interception against Buffalo, saw Saturday’s game as a chance to assert himself. “Once we got into game prep, I was, ‘How can I take over this team the best that I can and help this team win,’ ” he said.
Croft, a sophomore, hurt his chances by fumbling and failing to recover the ball during his second possession. Oregon State recovered at the Minnesota 17-yard line and quickly cut the lead to 17-14. Croft didn’t see action again until 3:46 was left in the fourth quarter. “One of the reasons why I didn’t play Demry in the second half is he tried to pick it up,” Fleck said, indicating that Croft should have fallen on the ball.
Croft, though, responded with a 64-yard TD to make it 48-14 with 2:53 left.
Rhoda will have three starts and a bye week under his belt before the Big Ten season begins with a visit from Maryland on Sept. 30. Last year, Rhoda filled in as starter for injured Mitch Leidner and helped the Gophers beat the Terrapins 31-10 in College Park, Md.