Jacksonville Sports Day

Bonts: Minnesota Keeps Rowing to Outback Victory Over Tigers

TAMPA – The Gophers kept rowing as No. 16 Minnesota beat the No. 9 Auburn Tigers 31-24 to win the Outback Bowl Wednesday.

“Bottom line is they made plays,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “They made the plays to win the game when the game was on the line, so you have to give them credit. We didn’t overlook them. I think our guys were ready to play. I think our guys played hard. But they made the plays. We didn’t.”

Tyler Johnson had 12 receptions for 204 yards and two TDs to become Minnesota’s career receiving leader. He was also the games’s MVP.

Johnson broke Eric Decker’s school record for receiving yards on his second catch of the day and became Minnesota’s all-time leader for scoring receptions on a one-handed, 2-yard TD catch that put the Gophers (11-2) up 24-17 at halftime.

QB Tanner Morgan completed 19 of 29 passes for 278 yards, one interception and both of the TDs to Johnson, who finished with 3,305 receiving yards and 33 TD catches in his career.

Receiver Seth Green tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Witham on fourth-and-inches midway through the second quarter.

Noah Igbinoghene returned a kickoff 96 yards for Auburn’s first touchdown. QB Bo Nix threw a 37-yard TD pass to Sal Cannella and JaTarvious Whitlow scored 3-yard run that made it 24-24 heading into the fourth quarter.

Morgan broke the tie with his second TD throw to Johnson, who posted the 16th 100-yard game of his career and caught at least one TD pass for the seventh straight game, tying a another school record.

The Gophers dominated on the ground, outrushing Auburn 215 yards to 56. Mohamed Ibrahim ran for 140 yards on 20 carries, and Rodney Smith finished with 69 on 16 attempts.

Nix was 17 of 26 for 176 yards, one TD and no interceptions.

Auburn started the game on defense where linebacker K.J. Britt made a tackle for loss on the opening play, and then three plays later, Jacksonville senior cornerback Javaris Davis intercepted Morgan and returned it 23 yards to the Gophers’ 17-yard line.

The turnover led to three points as Anders Carlson kicked a 24-yard field goal to give the Tigers the early 3-0 advantage.

After Minnesota tied the game with a field goal, Auburn answered immediately with another big play. This time, it was on special teams as Noah Igbinoghene returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. The junior cornerback found a seam thanks to a block from teammate Matthew Hill, and once he found daylight, there was nobody catching him.

It’s the first kickoff return for a touchdown by Auburn since a 96-yard return by Igbinoghene in 2018 against Arkansas, and it’s the first in Auburn bowl history. It also matched the longest kickoff return for a touchdown in Outback Bowl history.

Minnesota would finally break through with 10:26 left when Morgan connected with Johnson for 73 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.

Defensively, Jeremiah Dinson led the Tigers with nine tackles. The safety was part of a senior class at Auburn that all opted to play in the bowl game and finish their careers together.

Brown recorded five tackles in what was his final game wearing an Auburn uniform.

“I really appreciate our seniors,” Malzhan said. “They just did an outstanding job their whole career. I’m disappointed for them that we couldn’t get them out with a victory. They led us today and played extremely hard.

The Minnesota offense totaled 494 yards, which was the second most in school history in a bowl game and the four touchdowns tied for second most in school history. Minnesota’s 23 first downs were the fourth-most in school history.

The Gophers limited the Auburn rushing attack to a 56 yards, which is the fourth fewest in school history.

The Gophers have now won a school-record four straight bowl games and have a nation-best 19 straight nonconference wins.

The win was Minnesota’s 11th victory of the season, which is something the Gophers last accomplished in 1904. Coupled with Minnesota’s victory against No. 5 Penn State earlier this year, the Gophers beat two teams ranked in the AP Top 10 for the first time in a season since 1956 (beat No. 3 Michigan State and No. 5 Michigan).

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