BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — As the sun set and temperatures dipped below freezing at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, a few dozen hearty college boys were bare-chested and waving shirts over their heads from the cheap seats at the Gophers-Indiana game.
Like the Hoosiers on the field, their hearty display didn’t last as the game wore on.
Indiana took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, but Minnesota responded with a 21-point second quarter and 35 unanswered in a 35-14 win. By the fourth quarter, those partiers had left their last-place team for warmer spots.
Minnesota (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten) ended a two-game losing streak over Indiana (2-9, 0-8) and were able to remain a game off the pace in the Big Ten West. The U can thrust themselves back into the division race with a win over Wisconsin (8-3, 6-2) in the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe next Saturday and can make the conference championship game with a win and some help in two other games.
“We are at seven wins; I know it isn’t perfect or what people think we should be at,” head coach P.J. Fleck said. “… Having a chance, something has to happen, but having a chance to play for the Big Ten West championship in the last game of the year; that’s what I mean about being in it. We have seven days left.”
Hoosiers true freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley gashed the Gophers with a touchdown run on the opening drive, but struggled to throw the ball all game. He went 3 for 7 for 17 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions before being pulled for Grant Gremel.
The Gophers defense had two game-plans depending on which QB played and were able to adjust to McCulley’s running threat for the rest of the game. Indiana had 92 yards on the opening touchdown drive, including five runs over 10 yards, but Minnesota allowed only 57 yards over nine drives before allowing a late garbage-time touchdown.
After two losses to Iowa and Illinois, Tanner Morgan became the winningest quarterback in Gopher history. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 196 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, with Chris Autman-Bell making two contested catches for both scores.
Minnesota’s opening drive of the game went 16 plays, but Ky Thomas was stopped on fourth-and-1. Trailing 7-0, Thomas scored his first of two touchdowns midway through the second quarter.
On their third drive, tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford, who had a bigger role, was left wide open to catch a deep pass before hurdling a Hoosiers defensive back on a 48-yard reception to set up Ky Thomas’ 1-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7 in the final minute of the half.
On the next drive, McCulley overthrew a target; Minnesota safety Tyler Nubin intercepted it and returned it 18 yards.
With 30 seconds left, Morgan found Autman-Bell twice, including “CrAB” clawing in contested catch and getting a foot down in the end zone to make it 21-7. His second contested catch TD came in the third quarter.
“Last week was a really emotional game,” Fleck said of the 27-22 loss to Iowa. “Sometimes you don’t know what you are going to get after that. … I think our guys did a tremendous job preparing.”