TAMPA, Fla.–After an opening drive interception by Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan, you can just imagine what was being uttered across homes throughout the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
“Here we go again”
“Typical Minnesota sports”
“What else is on?”
Instead, Morgan silenced all the haters, forgot about his opening series and helped lead the Gophers to a 31-24 win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl. The win was No. 11 on the season for Morgan and Co., ending the season with an outstanding 11-2 record for the 2019 season.
Like they have been for a majority of the season, the Gophers defense came up big when they were needed the most. With Auburn taking over on Minnesota’s 12-yard line after Morgan’s interception, the defense held the Tigers to back-to-back three-yard runs before an incomplete pass by Auburn quarterback Bo Nix. The defense kept the Tigers out of the endzone and allowed just a field goal, a win for how and where the series started.
Morgan got right back to passing when the ball was put back in his hands for the Gophers second drive of the game. Passes to Rashod Bateman for 17-yards and Tyler Johnson for 13-yards plus a couple of Mohamed Ibrahim runs helped in putting the Gophers in field goal position. There, Michael Lantz–a true freshman–hit the 40-yard field goal to tie the game.
The game wasn’t tied long as Grant Ryerse’s kickoff was returned 96-yards for a touchdown and gave Auburn a 10-3 lead with 6:23 left in the first quarter. The kryptonite of the team in 2019–the Special Teams–looked to be coming back to haunt them at the most opportune time. Luckily, the Gophers got one back on special teams one minute later when Jacob Herbers punted and the catch was muffed by Christian Tutt and recovered by Thomas Barber. The recovery set the Gophers up with just 40-yards to go to tie the score. A 7-yard pass to Christ Autman-Bell, a 17-yard catch to Johnson and a 16-yard rush by Ibrahim and just like that, the score was knotted up at 10 points apiece.
Minnesota’s best drive of the first half began with 13:01 left in the first half. Beginning at their own 8-yard line, the team marched down the field, scoring on consecutive plays that got called back after review. On 4th and goal from the one-inch line, Seth Green hit Bryce Witham for the Tight End’s first catch of the season. Minnesota took a 17-10 lead with 7:09 left in the first half.
After a 4th down touchdown by Auburn–a 37-yard pass from Nix–the Gophers got the ball back with 4:15 left in the half and a chance for one drive to secure the lead at halftime. Smith started the drive with a 4-yard run and Ibrahim added an 11-yard run two plays later. Morgan hit Johnson for 29-yards into Auburn territory and Ibrahim added a 20-yard run down to the Tigers 17. Smith ran it for six more yards and Morgan hit Johnson yet again for a first and goal down to Auburn’s 2-yard line. What happened next will be talked about for years to come. On first and goal, Morgan threw a pass that looked to soar over Johnson’s head. Instead, the Gophers seniors leaped up with one hand and caught it, coming down and tip-toeing his way in for the touchdown. The video of Johnson’s catch blew up Twitter and also put Johnson alone on top of the all-time receiving touchdowns list in school history. Ron Johnson and Tyler Johnson were tied going into the game with 31 touchdowns apiece.
The Gophers went into the half leading 24-17 and came out strong again on defense after the break. Both teams punted on their opening drives of the third quarter and the Gophers yet again on the team’s second drive of the second half. In the ensuing drive for the Tigers, Nix and Co. tied the score 24-24 with 5:04 remaining in the third quarter. The score stayed that way into the fourth quarter where Minnesota and Auburn continued trading drives that ended in punts or turnovers on downs.
All that changed with 10:37 left to play in the game. With the Gophers getting the ball back, Morgan hit Johnson with a 73-yard touchdown that gave Minnesota the lead with 10:26 remaining. The catch was Johnson’s 11th of the game and gave him 185 yards with two scores. The defense responded on the next Auburn drive, forcing another Tigers’ punt back to Minnesota’s offense with 8:46 remaining.
Tick tick, tick tick.
The play call of the game came on 4th and 1 with 3:47 left to play. The Gophers elected to go for it and Morgan delivered a pass under pressure to Witham. Witham’s second catch of the season was another big one, with him reaching up with one hand to secure the ball and fall to the ground with it. The 11-yard play extended the drive and allowed the Gophers to slowly but surely take more time off the clock with a seven-point lead. An Ibrahim first down run forced the Tigers to begin using timeouts and with 1:35 left to play, the Tigers were out of timeouts, allowing the Gophers to finish the game in victory formation. The Gophers finished the season 11-2 on the season, the most wins in a single-season since 1904.
Tyler Johnson broke four records in his last game in a Minnesota uniform. In the first quarter, Johnson broke the all-time receiving yards record, previously held by Eric Decker. At the end of the first half, Johnson’s spectacular touchdown catch broke the tie between him and Ron Johnson for most receiving touchdowns in school history (31). In the second half, Johnson’s tenth catch of the game gave him the most in a bowl game by a Minnesota player. Tyler also had the most receiving yards in a bowl game. Johnson ended the game with 12 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
Bryce Witham had three catches for 75 yards in 2018 and recorded his first catch of the 2019 season in today’s game. The catch was a 1-yard touchdown from Seth Green on fourth down. Witham’s second catch of the season also came on 4th down, this time an 11-yard catch from Tanner Morgan with just under four minutes to play in the game.
Attendance for the 2020 Outback Bowl was 45,652, an improvement of over 5,000 from last year’s Outback Bowl.