Undermanned Gophers Outman Washington State in Holiday Bowl
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Shannon Brooks caught a tipped pass from Mitch Leidner for a 13-yard, go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter and the Gophers upset Washington State 17-12 in the Holiday Bowl Tuesday night.
It was one of the few exciting plays in an otherwise pedestrian edition of what traditionally has been one of the country's most exciting bowl games.
WSU cornerback Marcellus Pippins reached up with his right hand and deflected Leidner's pass in the end zone but it went right to Brooks for the TD and a 10-6 lead. That capped an 84-yard, 10-play drive on Minnesota's first possession of the second half.
The Golden Gophers (9-4) were looking to regroup after backing down from a threat to skip this game if 10 teammates suspended after a sexual assault investigation weren't reinstated. Their boycott lasted less than 36 hours, with university leadership never blinking. The players backed down amid pressure from many who read details of the allegations.
WSU (8-5) ended on a three-game losing streak and was held to its lowest point total of the season. The Cougars had scored more than 50 points four times this season, a school record.
The Golden Gophers frustrated WSU quarterback Luke Falk most of the game, holding him to 264 yards — 86 below his average — on 30-of-51 passing. Falk didn't crack 200 yards until the final minutes, when he led a drive capped by an 8-yard TD pass to Kyle Sweet. After three tries due to Minnesota penalties, the conversion attempt failed. Minnesota then recovered an onside kick.
Falk came in having completed 71 percent of his passes in throwing for 4,204 yards and 37 touchdowns. The Cougars were ranked second in the nation in passing.
Falk was intercepted by Adekunle Ayinde on fourth down with 3:05 left. That set up Rodney Smith's 9-yard TD run with 2:06 left for a 17-6 lead.
WSU lead 6-3 after a lackluster first half that included just three field goals.
The Cougars couldn't get their vaunted Air Raid offense going and crossed the 50 just twice, getting field goals of 26 and 41 yards by Erik Powell.
Powell's second field goal was set up when Nnamdi Oguayo hit Leidner and forced a fumble that Isaac Dotson recovered at the Golden Gophers' 38.
Minnesota got a 43-yard field goal by Emmit Carpenter in the second quarter.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers had only 110 yards of total offense in the first half before finally coming alive in the second half. Smith gained 74 yards on 17 carries. He came in averaging 90 yards.
Washington State: The Air Raid offense was a no-show. After Powell kicked a field goal to cap WSU's first drive, the Cougars went three-and-out on their next four possessions. The Cougars had to settle for Powell's 41-yard field goal at the end of the first half after Falk's pass to Tavares Martin Jr. to the 1 was overturned after review.
Minnesota: Tensions remain between the school administration and the team, which backed down from a threat to skip this game if 10 teammates suspended after a sexual assault investigation weren't reinstated.
Washington State: Coach Mike Leach said Monday that Falk would return for his senior season rather than declaring for the NFL draft. However, Falk hasn't said anything officially, and Leach kept players off limits to the media during bowl week.