Tampa, FL (EETV) — “Row the boat” docked its ship in Tampa with a win over the Auburn Tigers. The Gophers 31-24 win marks its third win over a SEC opponent in a bowl game, and its first since a 20-16 victory over Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl.

The Tigers stout defense was outmatched by Minnesota’s simple, yet effective offense, a description that head coach P.J. Fleck doesn’t mind.

“The more you simplify it, the better chance you have of mastering it,” Fleck said after their win against Penn State.

The surprise of the game was Minnesota’s ability to create running holes as wide as a sinkhole.

The Gophers rushed for 215 yards on a squad that gives up 115 rushing yards a game. The tour de force defensive line of Auburn was on the field for most of the contest with exhaustion playing a part at the end of the game when the defense needed a stop.

Minnesota had ranked 8th nationally in time of possession coming into Wednesday’s game and that game plan did not change. They dominated time of possession 20:45 to 9:15 in the first half.

When you don’t have the ball, the offense can’t find a groove. When the offense can’t find a groove, they won’t score points. When they don’t score points, they don’t win the football game.

It’s a vicious circle that has haunted Auburn all season.

Let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways from the game:

1. Play calling was confusing at best

After a huge fourth down stop by the defense in the fourth quarter, Auburn had the ball with a chance to take the lead.

Gus Malzahn decided to call two straight identical running plays up the middle to get the offense in a third down and five situation. Then an incomplete pass by Bo Nix sent the punt team out after 1 minute and 28 seconds with the football.

What a way to kill the morale of the defense.

Minnesota would score on the very next play, a 73-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Johnson who could not be stopped all day.

Auburn only ran the ball nine times in the first half. Malzahn went away from his bread and butter to ease Nix into the game.

The problem with that is Malzahn’s offense is predicated on establishing the running game. Nine rushes didn’t help Nix when the defense knows you are more than likely to pass, the defense will sit back with seven and sometimes eight defensive backs waiting for the ball to come their way.

There was no deep ball threat, in fact there was not one deep ball thrown the entire game.

The play calling was head scratching at the least.

2. Ball security is still an issue

Auburn ranks among the worst teams nationally in holding on to the football. On average, the Tigers are fumbling the ball at least twice a game, 8th worst nationally.

Auburn loses one of those fumbles each game. The inability to hold on to the football has cost the team multiple chances at points and perhaps, victories.

Christian Tutt’s first quarter blunder was another example of a blown opportunity to seize the momentum of the game. Auburn was up 10-3, and seemed like the game was flowing naturally for them.  

Then the expected happened, an Auburn player fumbled the football and turned over all the momentum to Minnesota.

The Gophers quickly drove down the field in three plays and scored on a Mohamed Ibrahim 16-yard run.

JaTarvious Whitlow loosened his grasp on the ball in the third quarter, with the ball eventually being recovered by a teammate.

That fumble equaled the average number of times Auburn fumbles a game (2).

3. The defense couldn’t stop…. Well, anything

There are averages that I want you all to know for the Auburn defense before the bowl game:

  • 13th in points allowed per game (18.6)
  • 21st in rushing yards allowed per game (115.5)
  • 20th in total yards allowed per game (329.9)

The defense allowed 31 points, second most all season, gave up 215 yards rushing and 494 total yards.

The play calling and the defensive struggles were like a PB&J sandwich, mushed together on moldy bread.

The play calling led to quick three-and-outs by the offense, which in turn meant that the defense was exhausted by the fourth quarter.

Minnesota controlled the ball for 37:35 compared to Auburn’s 22:25. They dominated the line of scrimmage and that set up play action nicely for the Tyler Johnson.

The Minnesota wide receiver finished with an incredible stat line: 12 receptions, 204 yards and 2 touchdowns, one of which included a one-handed snag and a beautiful toe tap along the back end of the end zone.

This was “X-factor”, if you will, of the game. A feature of the contest that no one saw coming.

4. Up Next

We won’t see Auburn football until they open up the 2020 season against the Mack Brown led North Carolina Tar Heels, who are poised to be a top-25 team to start the year.