First came the sack, then the bouncing helmet and finally, a loose ball.
Freshman defensive end Tai’yon Devers came into the game on a third-and-11 situation. The ball was snapped and he quickly beat Colorado State tight end Danny Nwosu around the edge, running full speed at quarterback Collin Hill.
Hill planted his feet and was preparing for a pass when Devers hit from behind. The quarterback’s helmet went one way, the ball went the other, and the crowd erupted. Players on the Minnesota sideline jumped up and down.
Defensive end Gaelin Elmore picked up the ball for the Gophers, which gave them excellent position to strike again.
Minnesota hit a field goal to make the score 17-7 late in the second quarter. The lead held for the rest of the game and the Gophers won 31-24 to stay undefeated.
“[Devers is] definitely a very talented kid,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “The good thing [is], we haven’t been able to get much of a pass rush on third down at times, and right now when we can use him we are able to do that.”
It was the rushing offense once again that led the way for the Gophers (3-0) — even with the stunning sack and forced fumble by Devers.
Redshirt sophomore running back Rodney Smith continued his torrid start to the season and finished one yard shy of triple digits on 17 attempts with two touchdowns.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner finished the game with 174 passing yards on 20 attempts, his first interception of the season, one rushing touchdown and 50 yards on the ground.
“I felt good. I felt fast,” Leidner said. “The defensive ends gave me some different reads there where I was able to pull the ball; and some good blocking down the field where I was able to open that up and be able to stretch the play a little bit.”
Smith’s second touchdown of the day was the product of an 11-play, 81-yard drive that put the Gophers up 31-17 with 10 minutes left in the game.
Colorado State (2-2) responded with a touchdown pass from Hill on the next drive. Minnesota had a quick three-and-out, and suddenly the Gophers were in trouble.
The Rams had 76 yards to go with 4:19 left in the game, but the drive stalled at Minnesota’s 45-yard line after safety Adekunle Ayinde had a pass deflection on fourth-and-1. The Gophers got the ball with 1:50 remaining and ran out the clock from there.
The Rams finished the day with 158 rushing yards and 211 passing yards.
“We’re not where we want to be,” said safety Damarius Travis. “I'm pretty pleased with the defense but we have a long way to go.”
The defense finished with 14 tackles that resulted in a loss of yards. Junior defensive lineman Steven Richardson had four.
The two rushing touchdowns by Colorado State were by running backs Marvin Kinsey and wide receiver Detrich Clark. The Rams had one drive where they went 75 yards on just six carries to tie the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter. Hill gained 28 rushing yards in the game before sacks.
“They got out of a lot of tackles,” Claeys said. “[Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo] does a nice job of mixing up the personnel, and the quarterback run game is the one thing that was different that we weren’t ready for.”
All of Minnesota’s touchdowns came on the ground — three from running backs and one from Leidner.
Sophomore running back Shannon Brooks returned after a two-game absence due to injury and scored one touchdown while rushing for 85 yards.
“It feels good to be back in pads out there,” Brooks said. “You can't go back out there too excited like you got to prove something. You just got to go out there and play your game and be calm and do what you can do."
Travis grabbed the first interception of the year for the Gophers.
Minnesota went on to score a touchdown and finished the game with 10 points off of turnovers.
“I saw the ball was like three yards overthrown,” Travis said. “I made sure I caught it and I didn't want to make sure I didn't just run through and drop it.”
The Gophers ended their non-conference schedule with the win Saturday. They now begin Big Ten play starting on Oct. 1 against Penn State.
“We’re playing good enough to slow people down a little,” Claeys said. “But we’re obviously not where we need to be going into the Big Ten.”