Minnesota beats West Virginia 18-6 to win Guaranteed Rate Bowl

Dec. 28, 2021: Minnesota pulled out all of the stops, taking down the Mountaineers 18-6 to finish the 2021 season 9-4 and Guaranteed Rate Bowl Champions.

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Full Game Recap:

  • First-Quarter: The Gophers defense opened the game without skipping a beat, forcing a quick West Virginia three-and-out. As it looked like the offense was going to take advantage, Matthew Trickett missed a 25-yard field goal (his first miss since Nov. 6 against Illinois). After another dominant three and out from the defense, but a Ky Thomas fumble deep in Mountaineers territory, giving the ball back to the opposition.
  • Second-Quarter: Minnesota was first to strike in the quarter No. 2, as Daniel Faalele capped off a seven play 54 yard drive with a 2 yard TD… yes you read that correctly. Fleck’s trickery continued with, as Brock Annexstad ran in the two point conversion as holder, and the Gophers took an 8-0 lead. West Virginia answered with a scoring drive of its own. After 12 plays and 75-yards and a failed two-point conversion. The Gophers lead was shortened to 8-6. Ky Thomas and the Gophers answered right back, as the redshirt-freshman RB added 61 total yards on the ground a TD extending the least to 15-6 heading into the break.

Second Half:

  • Third-Quarter: After exchanging punts, Minnesota was first to get on the board in the second half. A 49-yard field goal from Matthew Trickett extended the Gophers lead to 18-6. An overall sloppy quarter with a Tanner Morgan INT, a lot of punts and a lot of players slipping, the Gophers still lead by 12 heading into the final quarter of play.
  • Fourth-Quarter: The fourth quarter continued to be an absolute slugfest. P.J. Fleck was able to play the game that he wanted to play. Minnesota controlled possession for entire quarter and it seemed like it was in its four minute offense the minute they came out of the locker room for the second half. The Gophers offensive line, defense and running game dominated the final 30 minutes, finishing with a 18-6 victory.

Instant Reaction & Takeaways:

It might just be the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, but the Gophers have Paul Bunyan’s Axe, and they just won a football game in December to move to 9-4 on the season. If you take a step back and look at what they accomplished this season, this should go down as a great season of Gophers football. If you take away all of the outside factors of bowl selection and regular season play, Minnesota went 1-0 in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl season. They went to Phoenix, Arizona and dominated an inferior West Virginia football team for much of 60 minutes.

It has truly been a joy to watch defensive coordinator Joe Rossi continue to construct was has quickly become one of the best defenses in college football. Between a terrific day from Esezi OtomomewoTyler Nubin and Coney Durr to name a few, it was another performance that Gophers fans have grown accustomed to. West Virginia never really seemed to seriously threaten with a scoring drive outside of its lone scoring trip. Between young player Jahh Joyner and Michael Dixon making plays, it is really exciting to think about what this unit could look like next season, with a lot of talent coming back.

As for the offensive side of the ball, it was a first quarter for WR coach Matt Simon calling plays in a bowl game for now the second time (2020 Outback Bowl). Tanner Morgan was 6 of 8 for 82 yards in the first 15 minutes, playing comfortable in the pocket in his first quarter with Mike Sanford Jr. since that Outback bowl in 2020. That was really all Minnesota needed, as Morgan only completed a few more passes all game. What looked like a new era in the passing game really just ended up being a lot of the old, but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. The offensive line and the running game was is same dominant self, so they really didn’t need Morgan to do much more. I think the most important thing was that is just looked easier. Morgan looked like his old self.

What is Next?:

Well that’s all for 2021. Heading into the year the Gophers had hopes of a Big Ten West title, after some disappointing losses to Bowlng Green and Illinois and a great win over Wisconsin and a bowl win over West Virginia, they finished with a 9-4 record. Ultimately, it was a very, very up and down season. It is frustrating to realize how this season could’ve easily been more special, but it should still go down as a great year of Gophers football. Fleck clearly realized that this seaosn should’ve went better and he made changes at offensive coordinator.

In my 20 years as a fan of Gophers football there have been four seasons of 9+ wins and P.J. Fleck has been the head coach of two of them, both of which came in the last three seasons. This program is heading in the right direction, and will continue to head in the right direction.

Love him or not Tanner Morgan is the winningest QB in program history and he will be back for another season alongside Mo Ibrahim and Chris Autman-Bell. OC Kirk Ciarocca will have a plethora of weapons in hopes of brining the Minnesota offense back to 2019 form. I am confident saying that Joe Rossi will have this defense playing at a high level next season. With all that being said, 2021 certainly could’ve gone better, but the Gophers will have a chance to correct their mistakes in 2022 and have another special season of Minnesota football.

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