Tampa, Fla (EETV) - The No. 12 Auburn Tigers looked to add another bowl win to their resume and cap off a season with a coveted tenth win of the year in Tampa Bay at the 34th installment of the Outback Bowl.
The only thing standing in the way; a pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium. Actually, it was the No. 18 Golden Gophers of Minnesota and head coach P.J. Fleck, whose team took down Auburn 31-24 in the New Year’s Day matchup.
Auburn as a team averages 7.6 points per game in the first quarter so the 10 points that the Tigers put up before the first quarter came to a close was a sight many fans could get behind.
The offense seemed to struggle through the first quarter but where one area showed weakness the others showed strength.
“I think the first quarter we may have had six or seven plays,” Malzahn said. “Then the second quarter we didn’t have much more than that, they did a good job staying on the field too, our offense didn’t get many first downs early.”
The defense highlighted by the presence of lineman and future NFL players such as Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson would not have the same impact Tiger fans are used to from a unit who averages 2.25 sacks per game.
“Their scheme, they run it sideline to sideline,” Brown said. “I’m not making any excuses but when you run it sideline to sideline it kind of takes the defensive line out of it.”
The defense as a unit totaled zero sacks and were led by Jeremiah Dinson who totaled nine tackles.
Minnesota sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan would have an interception in the first half on the Gopher’s first drive as Javaris Davis was the one who came away with the takeaway, his second interception of the season.
The turnover set Auburn up inside the Minnesota 12-yard line and after two runs and an incomplete pass, Anders Carlson was able to knock one through from 24 yards out to give Auburn a 3-0 lead
Minnesota would answer with a field goal of their own, but on the ensuing kickoff Junior defensive back Noah Igbinoghene would make some history as he took the kickoff 96 yards to the house, the first kickoff return touchdown in Outback Bowl history.
“It’s all about the other guys, I just ran,” Igbinoghene said. “It was a big hole, one cut and then just ran, it was easy."
The Tigers looked to stay aggressive throughout the game, the lone offensive score of the first half came on a 4th-and-5 where quarterback Bo Nix rolled out to his right and found a wide-open Sal Canella from 37 yards out.
Nix would finish the game 17-26 with 176 yards and 1 touchdown.
At the half Auburn would fall behind 24-17 after a toe-tapping Tyler Johnson only needed one hand and one foot to give the Gophers the lead with just over 30 seconds left on the clock.
The third quarter saw much of the same, Auburn attempted to move the ball more on the ground with more success, the Tigers had five rushing yards at intermission as a team and on the first carry of the second half D.J. Williams was able to get that by himself.
After a Seth Williams catch put Auburn on the Minnesota 3-yard line with 10:18 left in the third, JaTarvious Whitlow took a direct snap over the top of the pile for an Auburn touchdown and the only score of the third quarter.
Tyler Johnson took Auburn’s secondary to school during the game, the senior wide receiver from Minneapolis constantly toyed with Auburn defenders en route to 12 catches for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Johnson also had the touchdown that decided the game as with 10:26 left to go in the fourth quarter, Morgan found Johnson on a post route, taking advantage of what Malzahn called, “a mess up on one of our coverages.”
The scoring drive for the Gophers was one play for 73 yards and a score to put Minnesota up and to give them a lead they would not lose.
“He’s not a fast guy”, Igbinoghene said. “He’s very shifty, has good hands and we saw that today. He can get open, good route runner, good technician.”
“Bottom line is they made plays,” Malzahn said. “They made the plays to win the game, when the game was on the line, so you’ve got to give them credit.”
The loss drops Auburn to 9-4 on the season, their sixth year in a row with four or more losses, and the win moved Minnesota to 11-2, their most wins in a season since the Gophers were 10-3 in 2003.