Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Minnesota beats West Virginia 18-6 in Guaranteed Rate Bowl

PHOENIX — Ky Thomas ran for 144 yards and a touchdown, Mar’Kiese Irving added 129 yards rushing and Minnesota shut down West Virginia on defense to win the Guaranteed Rate Bowl 18-6 on Tuesday night.

Thomas and Irving became the Gophers’ 1-2 punch after Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts sustained season-ending injuries. The two running backs carried most of the load offensively against West Virginia (6-7), accounting for 273 of Minnesota’s 358 total yards.

The Gophers (9-4) overwhelmed the Mountaineers defensively, holding them to 206 total yards to win their fifth straight bowl game, third under coach P.J. Fleck.

It wasn’t much of a surprise. Minnesota finished fourth nationally in total defense, allowing 284.8 yards per game, and was ninth against the pass and run.

West Virginia was without leading rusher Leddie Brown, who opted to skip the bowl game to prepare for the NFL, and struggled to find much of an offensive rhythm early against the swarming Gophers.

The Mountaineers finally clicked a little in the second quarter, moving 75 yards in 12 plays. Jarret Doege capped the drive by diving for the pylon on 4th-and-goal from the 1. They were moving the ball again later in the second quarter before Doege threw an interception at Minnesota’s 14-yard line.

West Virginia couldn’t get anything going against Minnesota’s defense in the second half, crossing midfield only once while being held to 79 yards.

Minnesota’s offense did a little pounding of its own.

The Gophers got in their own way after getting good field position on their first two drives, missing a 33-yard field goal and losing a fumble by Thomas at West Virginia’s 6-yard line.

Then they turned to someone who could move everyone out of his way: Daniel Faalele.

The 6-foot-9, 380-pound offensive lineman lined up at fullback, took the handoff and bulled his way into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown. Minnesota threw in a fake extra point for good measure, going up 8-0 after converting the 2-point conversion.

Thomas put the Gophers up 15-6 at halftime, scoring on a 5-yard run two plays after bursting up the middle for a 50-yard gain.

Minnesota reached West Virginia’s 3-yard line in the final minutes, but opted to kneel out the clock instead of trying to score.

The takeaway

West Virginia could have used Brown to perhaps spark its offense. Then again, the way Minnesota swarmed to the ball, it may not have mattered.

Minnesota’s defense dominated most of the year and capped it with a smothering performance to finally win the Guaranteed Rate — previously Insight — Bowl for the first time in four tries.

Up next

West Virginia could get Doege back and its two-deep offense is filled with underclassmen, though Brown will not be back. The defense also has plenty of players coming back, but will lose LB Josh Chandler-Semedo, S Sean Mahones and DT Dante Stills.

Minnesota has several key players returning for a sixth season, including Morgan, Ibrahim, WR Chris Autman-Bell and C John Michael Schmitz.