GOPHERS REPLAY NO. 18 MICHIGAN 49, NO. 21 GOPHERS 24
The 2020 season finally opened for Minnesota and the rest of the Big Ten, but Saturday’s result at TCF Bank Stadium isn’t one the Gophers will remember fondly.
Michigan retained the Little Brown Jug with a victory built on a strong rushing attack (256 yards) and a defense that scored a touchdown.
Quarterback Joe Milton, making his first start, passed for 225 yards and rushed for a score, and the Wolverines got a combined 152 rushing yards and three TDs from running backs Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet.
“I don’t know how many different people scored touchdowns, but it seemed like a lot,’’ Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.
A key moment of the game came late in the second quarter with Michigan up 28-17 and the Gophers facing fourth-and-4 from their 31. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck called for a fake punt, but Ko Kieft took the direct snap and was stuffed for a 2-yard loss. The Wolverines scored for a 35-17 lead three plays later.
“Good call if it works, horrible call if it doesn’t work,’’ Fleck said. “So, call it a horrible call.’’
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COVID-19 strikes: The special teams situation left Fleck shaking his head Saturday night. “I’ve never seen anything like it in college football with that many specialists out and other guys out all the way up ’til kickoff,’’ he said.
Though Fleck didn’t provide specifics on testing, first-team punter Mark Crawford was out, and his replacement, Matthew Stephenson, had punts of 31 and 18 yards in the first half. First-string kicker Michael Lantz and starting kickoff man Grant Ryerse were out, leaving both duties to Brock Walker, who is coming off sports hernia surgery. The Gophers had Walker use pooch or squib kicks, which left Michigan with good field position.
“The good thing about rapid testing is you have a safe playing field,’’ Fleck said about the Big Ten’s antigen testing protocols. “The bad thing about rapid testing is, one guy tests positive, no matter what, no matter if it’s a false positive or not, on game day, he’s out.”
Autman-Bell mostly quiet: Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan passed for 197 yards, including 101 on nine receptions by Rashod Bateman, but he had trouble connecting with No. 2 receiver Chris Autman-Bell. The lone catch for Autman-Bell was a 45-yard gain to the Michigan 45 in the first quarter. “They did a good job on their coverage with disguises, taking away certain things, but again, we just have to execute better,’’ Morgan said.
Dropping out of polls: Saturday’s result prompted voters in both the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls to drop the Gophers out of their top 25. Michigan moved up five spots to No. 13 in the AP poll, three spots to No. 14 in the coaches poll.
Up next: Maryland
6:30 p.m. Friday, Maryland Stadium. ESPN, 100.3-FM
The skinny: The first of three Friday games this season for the Gophers will find them visiting the Terrapins, who opened with a 43-3 loss at Northwestern, a game in which Maryland gave up 537 total yards, including 325 on the ground. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, a transfer from Alabama, had a difficult Maryland debut. He went 14-for-25 for 94 yards and threw three interceptions.
Second-year Terrapins coach Mike Locksley is standing behind Tagovailoa. “He’s our quarterback,” Locksley said. “He earned the right to be the starting quarterback, did the things that we thought would give us the best chance to win.”