Happy New Year, right?
Auburn got manhandled by Minnesota in a 31-24 loss in the Outback Bowl that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate. Somehow the Tigers stayed within a score for the majority of the game despite the Gophers decided advantage in nearly every area on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Tanner Morgan and receiver Tyler Johnson provided much of the offense for Minnesota, connecting 12 times for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It was Johnson’s 73-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter that provided the final margin. Auburn’s offense once again failed to move the ball away from Jordan-Hare Stadium, failing to gain even half of the yardage that Minnesota did. The Tigers racked up 232 total yards and only ran for 56 yards on 26 carries.
Things seemed like they were going Auburn’s way right out of the gate, as Javaris Davis picked off a pass on the third play of the game and returned it to the Minnesota 12-yard line. Three plays later, Anders Carlson had to come on for a short field goal and the Tigers led 3-0 less than three minutes in. Minnesota answered with a 10-play, 53-yard drive to tie the game on a 40-yard kick from Michael Lantz, but Auburn snatched momentum away completely on the ensuing kickoff. Noah Igbinoghene took the kick at the 4 and scooted 96 yards to paydirt for the game’s first touchdown, and Auburn led 10-3 with 6:23 to go in the first quarter.
The Tigers forced a three and out, but then the entire tenor of the game changed as Christian Tutt muffed the punt and Minnesota recovered in Auburn’s end of the field. Just three plays later Mohamed Ibrahim ran threw K.J. Britt on his way to a 16-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Early in the second quarter, Minnesota started to impose its will offensively even more. After a pooch punt from Bo Nix, the Gophers drove 92 yards in 12 plays and broke into the endzone on a wildcat pass to Bryce Witham on fourth down to move ahead 17-10. Auburn needed an answer, and found one on a fourth down of their own when Nix scrambled to the right and found Sal Cannella open downfield for a 37-yard strike. We were tied once again, but the Gophers again found it easy to move on offense. They hurried right down the field and Morgan hit Tyler Johnson in the back of the end zone with 32 seconds to play in the half to give Minnesota the lead at 24-17. Nix was sacked to end the first half, and Auburn went to the locker room needing answers all over the field.
The numbers weren’t good for the Tigers at that point, having run for just 5 yards and gone just 1-5 on third down. Minnesota rolled up 291 yards in the first thirty minutes, and held the ball for 20:45 overall.
Defensively, things shaped up in the second half. Auburn held the Gophers scoreless in the third quarter, and got the best drive of the game from the offense to tie things up in the later stages of the period. Auburn went on a 13-play, 86-yard jaunt that took 5:15 off the clock. It culminated in a short Boobee Whitlow touchdown run that tied things up at 24. Auburn kept getting solid defensive play, holding Minnesota to just 37 yards on 15 plays during the first three drives of the second half, with the latter ending on a huge fourth down stand.
Unfortunately, Auburn went three and out following the fourth down stop, and Minnesota got a 73-yard strike from Morgan to Johnson to put them on top on the next play. Auburn’s ensuing drive covered just 15 yards in 5 plays, and Gus Malzahn felt safe enough to punt the ball back to the Gophers with 8:38 to go. Instead, the defense finally withered after being on the field for so long, and allowed Minnesota to milk the entire clock to hold onto a 31-24 lead and win the game. Included in that drive was the crucial fourth down gamble from P.J. Fleck, where Morgan got pressured and Brice Witham made a one-handed leaping grab for the necessary yardage. After that, Auburn got bullied and gave up another first down and the Gophers kneeled out the clock.
In the loss, Bo Nix went 17-26 for 176 yards and a touchdown, while running for 12 yards on 6 carries. Boobee Whitlow was the leading rusher with just 24 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries, while Anthony Schwartz caught 5 passes for 49 yards. Minnesota got 140 yards and a touchdown 20 carries from Mohamed Ibrahim and another 69 yards from Rodney Smith. Aside from Tyler Johnson’s 204 yards and 2 touchdowns, Rashod Bateman added 49 yards on 3 catches. Minnesota dominated time of possession as well, hanging onto the ball for more than 37 minutes.
For Auburn, the Tigers finish 9-4, but it’ll be a bitter 9-4 with the way this game went. It was reminiscent of the Capital One Bowl against Wisconsin under Tuberville, or the Peach Bowl against UCF, in that the opposition seemed to care so much more about the win. Minnesota fought for extra yardage, played less tentatively, and hit harder than Auburn did today. Last year, Purdue didn’t belong in the same universe as the Tigers. Today, it was completely opposite. The Golden Gophers finish 2019 at 11-2, winning 11 games for the first time since 1904.
Hey, it’s fully basketball season now. War Eagle.