With 3:47 left in regulation and Georgia Southern up 32-28 late, it looked like the Eagles might come away with a win over a Big 10 team in Minnesota on the road.
But Golden Gophers’ quarterback Tanner Morgan (and Southern’s secondary to an extent) had other plans, and Morgan found receiver Tyler Johnson for a touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, eventually giving the home team a 35-32 win over Georgia Southern.
Things looked dire late in this one for the Eagles, and it looked as if the home team would put this one away with 8 minutes to go in the fourth. But a Minnesota field goal attempt was blocked by GS defender Reynard Ellis and allowed Monquavion Brinson to return it 77 yards for a touchdown to cut the Gophers’ lead down to two points, 28-26.
Just a few plays later, Eagles pass rusher Rashad Byrd strip-sacked Morgan, and returned the fumble 44 yards and gave GS a 32-28 advantage with 3:47 left.
Morgan reeled off a long 13 play drive following the fumble until there were 13 seconds remaining, putting the contest away by a three-point margin and giving Minnesota the victory.
Looking at the box score, none of Georgia Southern’s offensive players were overly impressive numbers-wise in this one, as leading rusher and quarterback Justin Tomlin stepped in for the mysteriously injured Shai Werts, who apparently dressed out according to the announcers.
Tomlin finished the game with 57 yards rushing and a score to go along with 75 yards passing, but coughed the ball up with on a drive with 8 minutes to go in regulation, and with the Eagles trailing by 8 points.
Outside of a disappointing final drive by the GS defense, the big key in this game came down to Minnesota’s ability to convert on 3rd down.
Numerous times, the Golden Gophers and Morgan would run the ball for next to no gain on the first two plays of a series, only to find an open receiver in third-and-long situations to bail P.J. Fleck’s team out of bad situations offensively.
As a team, Minnesota converted 50 percent of its third down attempts (7-14), and GS shot itself in the foot a number of times on key downs with 10 penalties in total.
Morgan went 19-31 for 289 yards in the win, throwing three touchdowns and a pick early in the first quarter that led to a Logan Wright run that put Southern up by a score of 7-0.
From there it was a back-and-forth contest that saw Minnesota take a 21-20 lead into halftime, leading to a wild finish and Morgan bailing his team out late for the third consecutive game.
If there is any blame in how this one ended, it has to go to Georgia Southern’s secondary and how much cushion it gave the Minnesota receivers late.
Multiple times on the final drive, the Golden Gophers signal-caller found receivers wide open all over the field while Southern’s defense was way off the line of scrimmage attempting to cut down big gains through the air in a prevent-like defense.
The Eagles will look to regroup and open conference play in two weeks, welcoming Sun Belt opponent Louisiana to Statesboro on Sept. 28.