The Bears played their starters the whole game Sunday against the Vikings' second team. So it was impressive to see the Vikings reserves battle all game and hold a 19-18 lead late into the fourth quarter.
Chicago's final drive covered 71 yards over 15 plays before Eddy Pineiro kicked a 22-yard field goal with 10 seconds left that sealed the Vikings' regular-season record at 10-6.
But if Bears starter Mitch Trubisky doesn't complete a 32-yard pass on fourth-and-9 just before the two-minute warning, the Vikings win.
And while the Vikings had to wait until the 49ers and Seahawks finished their "Sunday Night Football" matchup to determine that they would be going to New Orleans for their wild-card matchup next week, the fact is that their only hope of winning that game has to do with how healthy the roster is after they rested most of their starters Sunday.
Coach Mike Zimmer said he was pleased the second team held its own against the Bears starters.
"We had a lot of young guys that played today, defensively really all backups and offensively mostly backups," Zimmer said. "The defensive line, Ifeadi [Odenigbo] did well, Jalyn [Holmes] did well, I thought the corners did well, I think [Kris] Boyd fell down on that last fourth-down play. But we played them in pretty good coverage.
"[Andrew] Sendejo flew around like he always does. I was pleased with the protection from the offensive line. They have a lot of good rushers there."
What was amazing was how the offensive line and running game was able to produce against a Bears defense that ranked No. 6 in the NFL against the run heading into Week 17, allowing only 97.2 yards per game.
That was especially surprising since the Vikings totaled only 57 rushing yards against Green Bay last Monday.
"Rashod Hill did a nice job in protection, looked like Aviante Collins did OK and we had Dakota Dozier playing center," Zimmer said. "There was a lot of moving parts in there."
Mike Boone rushed for 148 yards on 17 carries, an average of 8.7 yards per carry — but he was involved in two turnovers in the first quarter, on a botched pitch and a bobbled pass that turned into an interception.
"He started out a little bit shaky, settled down after we pulled him for a little bit," Zimmer said. "He played well the rest of the way."
With the uncertainty around starting running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, the Vikings could very well need Boone in the playoffs.
"You know he has been a really good special teams player, and I think he'll continue to play well in the running game," Zimmer said.
And while the backups played well, Zimmer said the plan is to not need nearly as many of them next week in the postseason.
"Hopefully these guys will take this opportunity and run with it," he said. "And we'll get some of these guys back and let them go."
U passing shines
You have to wonder what the Las Vegas oddsmakers are hearing about the Gophers as they head into their contest against Auburn on New Year's Day in the Outback Bowl.
Despite losing offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca to Penn State and having starting linebacker Kamal Martin announce he will miss the game, the spread actually has dropped from an opening line of 9½ points to 7½.
If you're looking for one area where the Gophers could attack Auburn, it could be in the passing game.
The Tigers rank 39th in the nation in pass defense, allowing 208.4 yards per game, while the Gophers averaged 303.5 passing yards per game over their final four contests against Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin, their toughest stretch of opponents.
Overall the Gophers finished the regular season tied for 23rd in the nation in scoring offense at 34.3 points per game while Auburn was tied for 27th at 34 points per game. But when it came to scoring defense, Auburn was the much better team, finishing 14th at 18.6 points allowed per game while the Gophers were 34th at 22.4 points.
Morgan has QB edge
If you want a comparison of the quarterbacks, Auburn's Bo Nix has completed 200 of 351 passes (57%) for 2,366 yards, with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, while Gophers QB Tanner Morgan has completed 191 of 289 passes (66%) for 2,975 yards, with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Speaking of Morgan, Pro Football Focus rated him the 10th-best pro prospect of all quarterbacks playing in a bowl game this year.
"While Morgan has one of the nation's best receiving corps," the website said, "he has done his fair share of the heavy lifting for the Gophers offense. The redshirt sophomore was the third-highest-graded quarterback in the country from Week 4 on. Scouts are going to love his quick release."
Yes, the Gophers have maybe the best wideout duo in college football, with Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson both over 1,000 receiving yards this season.
PFF wrote that those two receivers graded out in the top 10 at their position, the only duo in college football to do that.
Auburn's best receiver is Seth Williams, who has 801 receiving yards.
Auburn tough on line
On defense, Auburn was at its best on the line, where tackle Derrick Brown was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and senior end Marlon Davidson was also named first-team All-SEC. Brown has 50 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles.
Another player to keep your eye on is defensive back Jeremiah Dinson, who was graded as the best safety in the SEC by Pro Football Focus.
Martin will not play in the bowl game for the Gophers. Auburn defensive end Nick Coe, who led the Tigers with seven sacks last season but struggled in 2019, has decided to skip the Outback Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft.
Tigers' schedule tough
But if you want the biggest reason Auburn has to be considered the favorite, it's the way it played against one of the toughest schedules in college football.
Auburn faced the second-toughest schedule in the country while the Gophers ranked only 30th.
Auburn faced six ranked teams: Oregon, Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers went 3-3 in those games, including a 48-45 victory over Alabama to end the regular season.