The new year is off to a good start for Gopher fans as Minnesota wins the Outback Bowl. Their 31-24 victory over Auburn gives the team their first 11-win season since 1904. Missed my pre-game article? You can read it here. If you’d prefer the Auburn perspective, we have you covered too.
The Gophers got off to an ignominious start, as quarterback Tanner Morgan threw his seventh interception of the year on the opening drive, but Auburn was only able to manage a field goal on that possession. From that point on, Minnesota dominated in most stat categories, but the score stayed close. Auburn got out to a 10-3 lead; Minnesota tied it. Minnesota scored, and Auburn tied the game first at 17, then at 24. Tyler Johnson’s one-handed grab at the very back of the end zone put the Gophers ahead for good with 10:26 remaining. (That catch was #1 on ESPN’s Top Plays for the day).
Auburn’s top 20 run defense didn’t pose nearly the issue for the Gophers’ run game one might have expected. They allowed an average of 115 yards per game on the ground and allowed 135 to Minnesota in the first half. Mohamed Ibrahim ran for 140 yards on 20 carries and scored Minnesota’s first touchdown. It was the Minnesota run defense that dominated, holding Auburn to a total of 56 rushing yards.
Rushing for 56 yards with a freshman quarterback is not generally a recipe for success, and it wasn’t in the Outback Bowl. Bo Nix played well for the Tigers, completing 17 of 26 pass attempts for 176 yards and a touchdown. But Auburn was forced to play a very one-dimensional game. Minnesota, for all of their success in the run game, was even better through the air. In his last collegiate game, Johnson caught 12 balls for 204 yards and two touchdowns, including the aforementioned highlight. Johnson isn’t a huge guy, or a ridiculously fast guy, but he’s a smart player and Auburn’s defense had no answers for him.
This is a bigger win for the Gophers than it is a loss for the Tigers. Auburn played an insanely tough schedule this year and looked burned out. I still think the Tigers are the best three-loss team I’ve seen in a long time. Bo Nix is going to be a very good quarterback for them going forward. Boobie Whitlow will be back for at least one more year, as will most of their receivers. The question is what their defense will look like next year, as they have several seniors (including DT Derrick Brown) and some juniors who likely won’t be back.
Minnesota, on the other hand, lost two of their last three regular-season games and had questions to answer about whether their 9-0 start had been a mirage. Clearly, it was not. There were also questions about their motivation- this is, after all, a team that was one win away from competing in the Big Ten Championship and possibly the Rose Bowl. Safe to say, those questions were answered as well.
Will this victory help the Gophers get more respect going into next season? We’ll see- the pre-season top #25 comes out in just under eight months. But 2020 is off to a great start for Gopher fans as Minnesota wins the Outback Bowl.