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Gophers put clamps on West Virginia to win Guaranteed Rate Bowl – Twin Cities

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PHOENIX — The Gophers offense and special teams showed in the first quarter of the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Tuesday that those units have been guaranteed to grate during the 2021 season.

Minnesota had two drives stall in West Virginia’s red zone and they missed a short field goal. Then in the second quarter, the Gophers showed how bowl games can, and should be, fun.

Right tackle Daniel Faalele lined up at fullback and the massive man plunged over the goal line to give Minnesota the opening lead in an eventual 18-6 win in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field on Tuesday night.

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In college football slang, that score is considered a big-man touchdown, but given Faalele’s size — 6-foot-8 and roughly 375 pounds — it’s more like the biggest-man touchdown. The trick play gave the majority maroon and gold crowd something to cheer.

The Gophers ran Faalele on a dive in the 2019 spring game, but the expectant NFL draft pick next spring got some unexpected glory in his final game for Minnesota.

The Gophers (9-4, 6-3 Big Ten) was a five-point favorite and didn’t trail. The U defense had six pass breakups, five sacks, an interception and held the Mountaineers (6-7, 4-5 Big 12) to their second-lowest point total of the season.

The Gophers have won five straight bowl games, including the Outback Bowl (2020), the Holiday Bowl (2016) and the Quick Lane Bowl (2015, ’18). It’s the second-longest streak, excluding national championships, in the country behind Alabama.

Besides the U’s miscues in the first quarter, both teams had trouble adjusting to the wet turf. Despite rain in the forecast, bowl officials opened the retractable roof on the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium to have four paratroopers land on the field and to shoot off red rockets during the national anthem. Rain poured down before the closed it.

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The pregame pomp was what fans expect in bowl games, but the consequence was players slipping all night on the temporary grass field.  In the third quarter, Tanner Morgan slid on the grass and had to eat a sack. On the next drive, Mike Brown-Stephens slipped on a route and Mountaineers defensvie back Charles Woods intercepted it.

Facing criticism online, the bowl’s account tweeted snark, “We thought Gophers could swim?”

While Faalele took the early spotlight, he Gophers tailbacks Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving were each able to eclipse 100 yards running against the Mountaineers. It was the 12th and 13 times Minnesota has had five different running backs go over century mark in games this season, and it was the first time it’s happened in a bowl game since Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III in the 2004 Music City Bowl.

Thomas finsihed with 144 yards and one touchdown; Irving ended with 129 yards. Minnesota had a nearly eight minute drive to ice the game in the fourth quarter.

The Gophers forced West Virginia to go three-and-out on its opening drive and then went 42 yards on 10 plays, but it stalled inside the Mountaineers 5-yard line. Tanner Morgan’s pass on second down was batted down and Morgan was sacked on third down. Then Matthew Trickett’s 32-yard field went wide left.

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On the second drive, Minnesota went 52 yards down to West Virginia’s 15, but Thomas fumbled. It was the first giveaway for a Gophers running back of the year.

The Faalele play made it fun again.



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