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Coach P.J. Fleck said this week that Minnesota kept its offense very basic in the team’s 17-7 win against Buffalo, even running inside zone 31 times.
However, despite not using the entire playbook, the Gophers did excel in passing the ball with their two inexperienced quarterbacks.
Prior to the Buffalo game, Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft combined to make eight appearances and one start during their time in Dinkytown. South Carolina was the only other Power 5 school whose quarterbacks had also combined to make eight appearances, but they had seven starts on their roster.
Rhoda and Croft both led scoring drives against Buffalo and they combined to complete 19-of-32 passes for 239 yards and one touchdown. Last year, Minnesota passed for only nine touchdowns and passed for more than 239 yards in a game only two times, as it passed for 241 yards in overtime at Penn State and 301 against Indiana State.
The Gophers also compiled 408 yards of total offense, which is a number they reached only four times last season.
Rhoda took the first snap for the offense against Buffalo, as he made his second-career start in his five-year year career. Rhoda has played in only six career games (one is 2017, three in 2016 and two in 2014), but is 2-0 as a starter and the team is 6-0 in games he has played in.
In 2016, he started and played the entire game at Maryland and led Minnesota to a 31-10 road victory. He also saw action in a blowout wins against Indiana State and Illinois. In 2014, he played against San Jose State and Iowa. He completed 12-of-21 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown against Buffalo. Prior to last Thursday, he had completed 8-of-17 passes for 88 yards and one touchdown. The majority of that work came at Maryland last year where he completed 7-of-15 passes for 82 yards and one touchdown to Shannon Brooks.
Croft completed 7-of-11 passes against Buffalo and also rushed six times for 32 yards in his first game action since Nov. 7, 2015, at Ohio State where he played one snap. Croft played in three games as a true freshman in 2015 before taking a redshirt year in 2016. In 2015, he played at Northwestern, Purdue and Ohio State, meaning Thursday’s game against Buffalo was his first game competition at home.
Rhoda and Croft combined to complete passes to eight players and four receivers caught a pass against Buffalo. Minnesota reached those numbers only once in 13 games last season and it was at Nebraska when eight players and four receivers caught a ball. Against Buffalo, Minnesota’s receivers combined to make 14 catches. Last season, the most number of catches that Minnesota’s receivers combined to make in a game was 16, which happened in an overtime game at Penn State.
Tyler Johnson and Demetrius Douglas each caught six passes against Buffalo. The last time a Minnesota receiver caught six or more passes in a season-opening game was 2009 when Eric Decker made nine catches in an overtime win at Syracuse. Johnson also tallied 141 receiving yards against Buffalo, which were the most in a season-opening game since Decker notched 183 against Syracuse. It is not known if Douglas’ six catches against Buffalo were a record for a true freshman making his debut for the Gophers, but it is the most since at least 1978.
Johnson was Minnesota’s breakout star against Buffalo. He caught six balls for 141 yards (second most ever recorded by a Gopher at TCF Bank Stadium) and one touchdown after making a total of 14 catches for 141 yards and one score in 13 games last season. Johnson, who did all his work in the first half, scored on a 61-yard reception in the first quarter. The pass was Minnesota’s longest touchdown reception since a 63-yarder against Purdue in 2012 (span of 57 games). Minnesota’s longest touchdown pass last season was 22 yards and its longest passing play was 62 yards.
Douglas, who is from Portland, Ore., impressed in fall camp and excelled against Buffalo. The youngster is the son of Minnesota great Omar Douglas (1990-93). The elder Douglas ranks tied for eighth in receptions (130), tied for ninth in receiving touchdowns (14) and tenth in school history in receiving yards (1,681). His five touchdowns against Purdue in 1993 is a school record.
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