Fresh off his coming-out party just a week ago at TCF Bank Stadium, true-freshman quarterback Phillip Nelson faced a taller task on Saturday morning with the Michigan Wolverines coming to town.
Many were quick to criticize the Gophers' decision to bring in Nelson in favor of sophomore Max Shortell and senior MarQueis Gray, though those rumblings were quickly put to bed after a 15-22 performance in which he passed for 246 yards in the first half and threw three touchdowns without an interception.
The Gophers offense sputtered early on, twice squandering field position around midfield, once being forced to punt and once failing to convert a 4th-and-1.
To their credit, the defense held up their end of the bargain early on, forcing a three-and-out on the Wolverines' first possession and later intercepting a pass thrown by junior quarterback Devin Gardner, who was called into duty with Denard Robinson sidelined.
Nelson would finally get the Gophers on the board early in the second quarter after a six-play, 43-yard drive was capped off by a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end John Rabe to give Minnesota a 7-0 lead.
The margin wouldn't be long-lived, as Michigan would turn a 3rd-and-12 into a 43-yard touchdown after Gardner scrambled to find an open Drew Dileo in the end zone to square things up at 7-7.
In their next two possessions, the Gopher offense would struggle to gain ground against the Wolverine defense, ending up with 132 total first-half yards and only two third downs in seven chances.
They wouldn't really show their teeth until the end of the first half, but with less than a minute left in the first half, the Wolverines would capitalize on a questionable pass interference call in the end zone and would punch the ball in from the 1-yard line to gain the 14-7 advantage.
Minnesota was able to drive the ball downfield quickly as the quarter wound down, but senior kicker Jordan Wettstein was unable to convert on his 55-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
After a strong defensive stand to open the second half, the Gophers had a prime opportunity to even up the score, but a trip to the red zone wouldn't yield any points for the Minnesota offense after a fake field goal attempt never materialized.
With momentum on their side, Gardner led the Michigan offense down field on a seven play, 86-yard drive, that would be capped off by a 12-yard Jeremy Gallon touchdown reception, stretching the Wolverine lead to 21-7.
Solid offensive line play and precision passing from Nelson would lead the Gophers to a field goal that would cut the deficit to 21-10, though a false start would kill the momentum that could've yielded more points.
In the end, the Wolverine offense would prove to be too much, as a 79-yard drive highlighted by a 47-yard reception by Roy Roundtree would be capped off by a Devin Gardner quarterback keeper, giving Michigan a 28-10 lead into the final 10 minutes of regulation.
The Gophers would work toward staging rallies near the end of regulation, but the inability to come away with seven points when in the red zone would prove to be a detriment to Minnesota as they would ultimately fall 35-13 to the Denard Robinson-less Wolverines.
Minnesota will look to get back on track in Champaign next Saturday as they face the Fighting Illini in what will be their best shot at reaching bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2009 Insight Bowl.
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