Game Recap: Casey O'Brien Debuts in #20 Gophers Rout Over Rutgers, Takeover First Place in West
It has been nearly 60 years since the University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football team has been 7-0. After they defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 42-7 Saturday, the Gophers have done just that for the first time since 1960.
And not only that, with Illinois upsetting the #6 Wisconsin Badgers in exciting fashion by nailing a last second field goal, the Gophers have taken over first place in the West division with a 4-0 conference record. I do not think anybody saw us taking over first place at this point of the season especially Gopher fans. Maybe tied, but taking over the top spot of the division completely alone was not expected.
But before recapping this game, the top story line to be discussed is redshirt sophomore Casey O'Brien. A four-time cancer survivor, O'Brien made his collegiate debut as a placeholder for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. He was sent out to hold the ball for the extra point three times by kicker Michael Lantz, All three were perfect holds that went right through the uprights.
To see him overcome such adversity by beating cancer four times and still being able to play in one of the toughest sports, is one spectacular sight. I hope to see him play more this season especially at home.
As far as the rest of the games goes, Minnesota completely obliterated Rutgers to propel themselves to first place in the division. The Gophers were up 42-0 at one point, and the only touchdown Rutgers scored was in garbage time when all second and third string defensive players were on the field. Overall, the Gophers killed it!
The Gophers had a slow first half only scoring 14 points, but came out in the second half on fire putting up 28 points with 21 in the fourth quarter alone. Minnesota ended the game with 443 total yards and only allowed 189 yards on the defensive side of the ball.
Tanner Morgan struggled in the first half missing open receivers and looking troubled in the pocket. But he looked like the Morgan we are all familiar with in the second half finishing the games with 245 yards and 2 touchdowns including a late fourth quarter bomb to Tyler Johnson for a 56 yard touchdown.
Morgan was throwing tighter spirals on slant plays that seemed to be lacking in the first half. And with an improved pass game in the second half, it complemented well with an explosive run game.
Of the Gophers six touchdowns, three were on the ground. Rodney Smith had another spectacular performance rushing for 111 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. Mohamed Ibrahim also had a great day with one touchdown on 15 carries for 62 yards. Shannon Brooks only had five carries for 15 yards.
Both Johnson and Rashod Bateman had an amazing game receiving. Johnson, who set a school record with his 12th 100-yard receiving game, had 130 yards and one touchdown. What an outstanding career for Johnson, and I hope to see him playing numerous Sundays in the future. But there is still five games left in the season. Still much more for Johnson to do with the Gophers.
As for Bateman, he did not break 100 yards as he had 72 yards receiving, but he arguably had one of the greatest catches of the college football season. Near the end of the first half, Bateman made a stellar one-handed grab with one arm being held down and the other fully extended to pull in the football. He went full Odell Beckham with that one.
And let's give it up for the defense! They limited Rutgers to only 48 passing yards forcing three interceptions with one defensive touchdown by none other than Antoine Winfield Jr. who had a pick six. They also knotched eight TFL. The Gophers defense completely stunned the Rutgers offensive attack. The only negative for the defense was that star linebacker Kamal Martin left the game with an injury. Hopefully he returns healthy soon!
Minnesota has now won nine straight dating back to last season. That is the longest winning-streak since the 1941-42 season. That is crazy! But I think the best thing about this game was of course Casey O'Brien making his debut.
Gophers take on Maryland next week at home trying to go 8-0 and hold on to first place in the West!
Row the Boat, Ski-U-Mah, Go Gophers!