Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports
The Minnesota Golden Gophers got a break on Saturday, with 2014 Biletnikoff Award finalist Rashard Higgins missing the game with a sprained foot for Colorado State. But that does not take away from an impressive defensive effort, which included four forced turnovers, 314 total yards allowed and two quarterbacks that saw action for the Rams.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner and wide receiver KJ Maye connected on a touchdown late in the fourth quarter for the second consecutive game, which gave the Gophers the lead briefly before Colorado State made a late drive to force overtime. A forced fumble by sophomore linebacker Cody Poock on the first play of overtime turned the momentum back to Minnesota quickly, and Ryan Santoso made his third field goal of the game to send the Gophers home with a 23-20 victory.
Minnesota out-gained Colorado State by nearly 100 yards (413 yards of offense), led by 100-yard games from running back Rodney Smith (108 rushing yards on 21 carries) and wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky (nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown). Leidner had another inconsistent effort throwing the ball, as he finished 23-for-45 for 233 yards and two touchdowns, but he again showed some late-game moxie to help set aside concerns about his overall level of play.
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The Gophers avoided their first 0-2 start since 2011, which was Jerry Kill’s first season as head coach, and Saturday’s victory was their first overtime win since 2012 on the road against UNLV.
TCU did not overwhelm the Gophers in last week’s season opener, and without a few critical mistakes in that game they could easily be 2-0 record heading into the softer part of their non-conference schedule. But splitting two tough games to start the season has to be considered a win the bigger picture, and Minnesota looks ready to go deep into the regular season with a legitimate chance to win the Big Ten West.
Up next for Minnesota is a home game against Kent State, with kickoff set for 11 a.m. next Saturday.