Tempe, Ariz. - The Minnesota Golden Gophers and Iowa State Cyclones played about as even as you can Thursday night at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. In the end, it was Iowa State which came away with a one-point victory, 14-13.
Minnesota rolled up 434 yards of offense, while Iowa State tallied 428. The Cyclones had 22 first downs, while Minnesota recorded 21. Iowa State rushed for 212 yards, while Minnesota passed for 312. The Gophers held the ball for 29 minutes, while Iowa State had it for 31.
What it all boiled down to for Minnesota was missed opportunities. The Gophers missed a 34-yard field goal midway through the third quarter and lost a fumble at the Iowa State 15-yard line with just more than four minutes remaining. Minnesota also saw what looked like a sure touchdown pass turn into an interception when a receiver slipped to the turf at the goal line.
Minnesota trailed 14-3 at halftime. But in the second half, Minnesota clearly had the momentum for much of the time. It was a fake punt that finally jump-started the Gophers' offense.
Using the strength of a 40-yard pass from punter Blake Haudan to Kyle Theret to keep a drive alive, the Gophers broke a 10-quarter touchdown drought late in the third quarter. Starting at fourth-and-4 on its own 37 yard line, Minnesota lined up to punt the ball away, but at the snap, Hauden hit Theret in the right flat. Theret streaked up the right sideline before being knocked out at the Iowa State 23-yard line.
On the next play, Adam Weber connected with Nick Tow-Arnett, who snuck in the front corner of the end zone. After the Eric Ellestad extra point, the Gophers were within four at 14-10.
Riding that momentum, the Gopher defense scored a turnover on the next series, recovering an Austen Arnaud fumble near midfield. Taking over at their own 46-yard line, the Gophers went back to Tow-Arnett, this time for a 24-yard strike to the Cyclone 30-yard line. Minnesota worked all the way down to the 4-yard line, before settling for a field goal which brought the Gophers within one, 14-13, near the end of the third quarter
Minnesota had the ball just twice in the fourth quarter. Its second possession began with 7:11 left in the game at the Gophers' 1-yard line after a Mike Brandtner punt took a sharp left turn just before rolling into the end zone and was downed 99 yards away from the Cyclones' end zone.
On the first play of the possession, Adam Weber found Da'Jon McKnight for a 19-yard pass and a first down out to the 20-yard line. MarQueis Gray followed with a 28-yard run. Minnesota worked its way to the ISU 40-yard line. Back-to-back Weber completions -- 11 yards to Duane Bennett and 12 yards to Eric Lair -- put the ball at the Iowa State 17-yard line. On first-and-10, Gray took a running play off the right side, but lost the handle on the ball. Terran Benton recovered for Iowa State to end the threat. The Cyclones then ran the final 4:04 off the clock to ice the one-point victory.
The Golden Gophers took their first possession of the game and went 55 yards on six plays to take a 3-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game. That drive was aided in big part by a 41-yard pass from Weber to McKnight, taking the Gophers to the 25-yard line. The long pass play led to an Ellestad 36-yard field goal, giving Minnesota the early lead.
Defensive back Kyle Theret set a Minnesota bowl record with two interceptions in the first half. However, after each of the turnovers, the Gophers were unable to capitalize, going three-and-out.
After a fourth-and-2 miss by the Gophers, the Cyclone offense awoke. Taking over at its own 29-yard line, ISU went 71 yards on 10 plays for the game's first touchdown. Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud ran nine yards around the left side on a QB keeper to put his team up 7-3 with 4:36 left in the first half.
The Gophers quickly went down the field the other way, highlighted by three straight completions from Weber, all for more than 10 yards. But on his last attempt of the drive, Weber was picked off at the goal line when intended receiver Troy Stoudermire slipped on the natural turf. Stoudermire was wide open for a TD on the play, before he slipped.
That interception eventually led to a 14-point swing. Iowa State took over with 1:23 remaining before halftime. The Cyclones didn't nurse their four-point lead. Instead, they drove 89 yards in six plays in 60 seconds for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. ISU's Arnaud capped the drive with a 38-yard scoring strike to Jake Williams. That score put Iowa State on top 14-3 at the intermission.