Gophers move to 3-0 with 26-3 victory over Miami of Ohio on Tyler Johnson’s big day
Sure, the Gophers might not have performed at their highest level on offense Saturday afternoon. They dropped passes, allowed three sacks and struggled to finish drives on a sweltering, 91-degree day.
But three touchdown catches by Tyler Johnson and a stingy defense will mask some blemishes, and thats what happened Saturday afternoon in a 26-3 victory over Miami (Ohio). The Gophers didnt give up a touchdown, registered a safety and forced three turnovers.
It all added up to a 3-0 nonconference record for the Gophers, who being Big Ten play next Saturday at Maryland.
The defense stood out Saturday, with linebackers Thomas Barber and Kamal Martin making eight tackles each, cornerback Antonio Shenault making seven tackles and returning an interception 42 yards, and rush end Carter Coughlin sacking quarterback Gus Ragland twice.
True freshman running back Bryce Williams, making his first career start, was a workhorse on the steamy afternoon. The Sarasota, Fla., native rushed 33 times for 141 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and adding a key 35-yard gain on a screen pass. Williams helped free things for Johnson, who caught nine passes for 133 yards and the three scores.
Gophers quarterback Zack Annexstad completed 12 of 20 passes for 142 yards and two TDs but was slowed by a left ankle injury suffered on a first-quarter sack. He left the game after throwing a TD pass to Johnson for a 26-3 lead with 7:02 left in the third quarter. Tanner Morgan and Seth Green took the remainder of the snaps at QB.
The Gophers opened the game with a 13-play, 66-yard march that used 7:11 to take a 7-0 lead, with Annexstad hitting Johnson on a 7-yard pass for the score. During the drive, Annexstad hooked up with Johnson for a 20-yard gain on third-and-21, setting up Greens 1-yard run out of the Wildcat formation to convert it. Williams rushed seven times for 40 yards on the drive, with three gains of 9 yards.
On that possession, Annexstad was sacked for a 13-yard loss and hurt the ankle. He was examined in the sideline medical tent after the drive and was riding an exercise bike to stay loose but returned to the game after Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. recovered a fumble by Ragland.
The Gophers drove to the Miami 27 but two dropped passes by Johnson and a dead-ball unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on offensive tackle Donnell Greene pushed them out of field goal range and forced them to punt.
After forcing Miami to punt the Gophers got great field position when Winfield had a 31-yard return to the RedHawks 47.
Williams had carries of 11 and 10 yards to the RedHawks 26. The drive stalled, and Emmit Carpenter kicked a 44-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 11:59 left in the first half.
Carpenters ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving Miami the ball at the 35. The RedHawks took advantage on Sam Slomans 37-yard field goal with 7:56 left in the first half, cutting the lead to 10-3.
On the next possession, the Gophers got hookups of 27 and 10 yards from Annexstad to Johnson. But the drive stalled at Miamis 35 after a 4-yard loss on a third-down pass to Rashod Bateman. Rather than try a field goal of 50-plus yard into a slight wind, the Gophers opted to punt, and Jacob Herbers pinned the RedHawks at their 2 with 4:02 left in the half.
That strategy worked as well as coach P.J. Fleck could have hoped, because the Gophers got a safety for a 12-3 lead as RedHawks running back Alonzo Smith tripped in the end zone for a 2-yard loss. Barber had first- and second-down tackles of Smith to set up the safety.
The Gophers quickly made it 19-3 with some big gains. First, Williams took a screen pass down the sideline 35 yards to the Miami 40 on third-and-17. A pass interference penalty on Miamis Deondre Daniels moved it to the RedHawks 25, and Annexstad found Johnson for an 18-yard gain to the 7. In came Green in the Wildcat, and he threw a dart to Johnson on a slant for a 7-yard TD strike.
The Gophers boosted the lead to 26-3, thanks to a short field set up by Shenaults 42-yard interception return to the Miami 12. On third-and-5, Annexstad found Johnson on a slant for his third TD reception of the game.