Between Antoine Winfield Jr.’s game-sealing interception and the key third-down hookup from a scrambling Zack Annexstad to a skywalking Tyler Johnson, the Gophers thrived on big plays during the fourth quarter of their 21-14 comeback victory over Fresno State on Saturday night.
One more stood out: Seth Green’s two-point conversion pass out of the wildcat formation to tight end Ko Kieft after the Gophers took a 19-14 lead with 3 minutes, 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Kieft figured the play might be called.
“I was kind of waiting for it. We were setting it up, so I knew it was coming,” the third-year sophomore from Sioux Center, Iowa, said. “One time it was called, and we checked out of it. The two-point situation came, and it was called on the sideline. I was like, ‘Yep, let’s go. Focus in.’ We were ready for it.”
On the play, Kieft blocked the defensive end as if it were a running play, then released into the end zone as Bulldogs safety Juju Hughes read run. Kieft got past Hughes, who tried to recover but was too late to prevent the completion.
“It’s late in the game and we’ve already pounded them with [the wildcat],” said the 6-4, 250-pound Kieft, whose primary role is a blocker. “They were just trying to stop Seth. I credit the O-line for blocking well and Seth for running well. That’s how I got open.”
Kieft, who caught two passes last season, wasn’t sure how he’d react when his number was called. Junior tight end Colton Beebe, who lined up just behind Kieft on the play, was a calming influence.
“To be honest, I thought I’d be all nervous when they called it in the game, but I was levelheaded,” he said. “Colton Beebe was with me, and he does a really nice job leading me and keeping my head level and helping me execute.”
Kieft sees the successful conversion as an example of how the Gophers have come together this season.
“What this team does really well is play for each other,” he said. “We’re not playing for our own agendas. You’re playing for the guy next to you.”
Smith wants more
Through their 2-0 start, the Gophers have given up three touchdowns, and two have come after offensive turnovers inside the Minnesota 20-yard line. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith sees room for improvement.
“It means we’ve got to do a lot better in the green zone,” said Smith, sticking with program lingo for what is usually known as the red zone. “We’ve come up short there in a couple opportunities. Really, our first legitimate stop in the green zone was the last play of the game, the Antoine Winfield takeaway. That’s been a big emphasis for us this week.”
Saturday, the Gophers face a Miami (Ohio) team that has scored four touchdowns in five trips inside the opponent’s 20.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald made some waves Tuesday with his criticism of the run-pass option offense. “It’s communism,” he said.
“RPO is the purest form of communism.”
Fitzgerald’s Wildcats on Saturday lost 21-7 to Duke, which runs the RPO. Fitzgerald believes offensive linemen often are downfield illegally during RPO plays and aren’t penalized for it.
Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who runs the RPO, laughed when asked for his reaction on Fitzgerald’s comments.
“Pat’s funny,” he said.
Dungy to be honored
Tony Dungy, the former Gophers quarterback and Super Bowl-winning coach, will attend Saturday’s game and be honored during the first quarter.
Dungy on Friday also will participate in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Hometown Hall of Famers program.
He will present the Hometown Hall of Famer plaque to the U, which will become the 120th “official school” of the Hall.