Updated: September 14, 2019 09:40 PM
Tyler Johnson caught three touchdown passes from Tanner Morgan, including the go-ahead score with 13 seconds left on Saturday to give Minnesota a tense 35-32 victory after two long touchdowns by Georgia Southern in the fourth quarter off miscues by the Gophers.
Johnson, the star senior who deferred the NFL draft to stick with his hometown school for one more year, had 10 receptions for 140 yards in his third career three-touchdown game. On second-and-goal, Morgan floated a pass in the corner of the end zone for Johnson to grab it in front of Monquavion Brinson.
The last-ditch drive netted 75 yards on 13 plays in 3:34, but a holding penalty and a sack pushed the Gophers back to their 6-yard line. Morgan hit Demetrius Douglas for 21 yards on third-and-29 and found him again on fourth down to keep the rally alive. Johnson and Rashod Bateman followed with two first-down catches apiece, before the winning score.
***Click video box for post game interviews with head coach P.J. Fleck, wide receiver Tyler Johnson and quarterback Tanner Morgan***
With 6:05 remaining and the Eagles trailing 28-20, Traver Vliem blocked Michael Lantz's 36-yard field goal attempt before Brinson grabbed it and weaved around the field for a 77-yard touchdown. After a sideline interference penalty by the Eagles pushed the 2-point conversion play back to the 18-yard line, Justin Tomlin's pass was incomplete.
On the next possession, on third-and-5 near midfield, Morgan was hit by an unblocked Rashad Byrd as he cocked his arm to throw. The linebacker leaped in the air to grab the ball and ran 44 yards for the go-ahead score. The trick-play 2-point pass to left tackle Jarrod Leeds was completed, but Leeds was short of the goal line.
The Gophers (3-0) outgained the Eagles (1-2) in total yardage 382-198 and stretched the longest nonconference winning streak in the FBS to 18 straight games.
Morgan finished 19 for 31 for 289 yards under frequent pressure, but he threw an interception on Minnesota's first drive that gave Georgia Southern the ball. Logan Wright scored on a 21-yard run on the ensuing play.
Tomlin, a freshman who took over for Shai Werts in the opening loss at LSU when the junior hurt his shoulder, went 5 for 9 for 75 yards and ran 14 times for 57 yards in the triple option scheme the Eagles have used for years. Tomlin scored on a 12-yard scamper with 27 seconds left before halftime, when he appeared to be fumbling the ball as he crossed the pylon and tumbled out of bounds, but no replay review was ordered.
Quin Williams had two of Georgia Southern's five sacks, and Tyler Bass, who's on the Lou Groza Award watch list, made field goals from 25 and 45 yards.
Georgia Southern: The Eagles, who won six FCS national championships before moving up in 2014, almost pulled off the program's second win over a Power 5. They won 26-20 at Florida on Nov. 23, 2013. This performance, though plagued with self-inflicted setbacks, ought to provide some confidence for conference play as well as future visits to Big Ten foes Nebraska (2022) and Wisconsin (2023).
Minnesota: None of their nonconference opponents were big-time programs. All three wins were too close for comfort. Still, the Gophers can take some moxie into Big Ten play after beating South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern with late flourishes. Those teams went a combined 32-8 last season, even if they were in lower-tier leagues. There's a valuable trait to be developed in learning how to win when trailing in the closing minutes.
Georgia Southern: The Eagles have a week off before opening Sun Belt play at home on Sept. 28 against Louisiana, which was picked by conference coaches in the preseason poll to win the West Division. The Ragin' Cajuns played in the Sun Belt championship game last year, losing to Appalachian State.
Minnesota: The Gophers get next weekend off, before playing their Big Ten opener at Purdue on Sept. 28. They've beaten the Boilermakers in five of the last six matchups, with the lone loss coming on the road in 2017, a 31-17 defeat. The Gophers won 41-10 at home last year.
Updated: September 14, 2019 09:40 PM
Published: September 14, 2019 12:00 AM
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