BOULDER, COLO. – By early in the fourth quarter of a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon at the base of the Rocky Mountains, the only question remaining was: Would the Gophers get the shutout?
They did, in a dominant, 30-0 victory over Colorado at Folsom Field.
Behind an offense that generated 441 total yards and a defense that held the Buffaloes to 63, the Gophers improved to 2-1 and put on a show for the throng of maroon-and-gold-clad revelers who made the Buffaloes' home their own.
By midway through the fourth quarter, most of the Colorado fans had left the stadium as Minnesota loyalists — roughly one-quarter of the announced 47,482 — roared with approval. It got so spirited that a short railing collapsed under the pressure of Gophers fans leaning over to reach out to the players as they left the field.
"That's exciting to see," Gophers linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin said with a smile. "I know it wasn't malicious or anything. That's just our fans believing in us and supporting us. … I hope Colorado can get that fixed."
In winning their 21st consecutive nonconference game — the longest active streak in major college football — the Gophers controlled a Colorado team that a week earlier had led then-No. 5 Texas A&M in the final three minutes before falling 10-7. As the Minnesota defense kept piling up three-and-out after three-and-out, holding the Buffaloes to six total first downs, the offense stretched a lead that was 13-0 through most of the third quarter to 23-0 with 9:53 to play.
"It was just pivotal for us," said Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, whose team struggled in the second half before putting away Miami (Ohio) last week. "We didn't know what was going to come out today. … I thought we handled business through four quarters today."
Trey Potts rushed 26 times for 121 yards and three touchdowns, Chris Autman-Bell had four catches for 79 yards in his return from injury, and Boye Mafe and Thomas Rush each had two sacks, the team's first of the season.
The shutout was the Gophers' first since a 62-0 victory over Temple in 2006 and the first over a Power Five opponent since a 45-0 blanking of Illinois in 2004. It also was their first road shutout of a Power Five team since beating Illinois 21-0 in 1977.
"Wow," the 40-year-old Fleck said when told of the 1977 stat. "I was negative-3."
"That," Colorado coach Karl Dorrell said, "was a complete beatdown."
Not everything went the Gophers' way. Matthew Trickett missed field-goal attempts of 26 and 46 yards and banged a PAT off the upright. Mark Crawford shanked a 30-yard punt. And the offense was only 3-for-11 on third-down conversions.
Of course, a defense pitching a shutout can spackle over other issues. The Gophers' four sacks of Buffaloes quarterback Brendon Lewis resulted in 31 yards of losses. Lewis produced only 55 passing yards, going 8-for-16.
"That was something we really emphasized — getting pressure and keeping him in the pocket," Rush said.
A scoreless game after one quarter became 6-0 when Potts capped an eight-play, 82-yard drive with a 13-yard TD run, aided by a pancake block by tight end Ko Kieft. The key play on the drive came on third-and-5 from the Colorado 45 when Morgan hit Autman-Bell on a back-shoulder throw for a 32-yard gain to the 13.
Potts stretched the lead to 13-0 with a 2-yard TD run on a drive that started when Tanner Morgan hit Dylan Wright on a crossing pattern, and the wideout blasted a Buffaloes defensive back with a stiff-arm and gained 39 yards to the 21.
"We played lights-out," Potts said. "We started the game really fast. We just played really physical football early on."
Sori-Marin forced a third-quarter fumble that Justus Harris recovered for Minnesota at the Colorado 43, and Potts converted a fourth-and-1 from the 8 for a 5-yard gain. Potts followed the lead block of Axel Ruschmeyer, a guard lined up as fullback in the I formation, for the TD that made it 20-0.
Trickett tacked on a 33-yard field goal, and freshman Ky Thomas had a 14-yard TD run to set the final and rev up the Gophers party.
"This [trip] wasn't just across the border. It was a flight [to get to Colorado]; they had to take time out of their weekend," Fleck said. "I'm just so proud of our fans. That kept us going throughout the game. That's what was so special at the end of the game."