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Miami (OH)’s rabid comeback falls short in Minnesota, 31-26

The RedHawks outscore the Gophers 23-10 in the second half, but it is not enough for victory.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Minnesota Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

An upset-starved Miami RedHawks team invaded Minnesota after suffering a 49-14 blowout to Cincinnati on opening weekend. Miami appeared headed for a similar trajectory, trailing the Gophers 21-3 at halftime. But the team ignited a valiant second half comeback effort and outscored the Big Ten foe, 23-10 in the final 30 minutes of clock.

The rally fell just short, however, as Minnesota escaped with a 31-26 victory. The loss ensures Miami will suffer its 18th consecutive season without a Big Ten victory. While Miami saw plenty of positives in the second half, the reality is the team is 0-2 with back-to-back losses for the first time since Weeks 2 and 3 of the 2019 season.

Miami’s offense was injected with new life from the get-go. Third-year starting quarterback Brett Gabbert returned to the lineup after missing the Cincinnati game with an injury. He stepped up to the plate and fired a strike to his favorite target Jack Sorenson to initiate the festivities in Minnesota. But Gabbert’s promising first possession quickly turned disastrous as an under-center snap was mishandled on 3rd and 1. The Gophers recovered the fumble and then handed the RedHawks a heavy dose of running back Trey Potts who launched the scoring effort for the afternoon.

Potts, stepping up for Mohamed Ibrahim who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1, was spectacular for Minnesota. The new workhorse back handled 34 carries and produced a career-high 178 yards and two touchdowns. Potts was also instrumental in the final minutes in moving the sticks to secure a Gophers’ victory.

Potts and the offense built a 21-3 lead in the first half, but Miami roared back to start the third quarter. On the RedHawks’ first offensive opportunity after halftime, they inserted A.J. Mayer into the game and his first throw was a 26-yard completion to Sorenson on the 1-yard line. Mayer utilized his size to punch it in on a QB sneak the following play.

Miami’s defense played with more passion too, applying immense pressure to Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan. As the defense turning up the heat, Miami’s offense started to click and scored on its second and third possessions of the half. Kicker Graham Nicholson nailed a 45-yarder to follow up his 46-yard make in the first half. Then, Sorenson caught a 23-yard jump ball in the end zone. Miami elected not to go for two points, trailing 21-20 with 12:32 remaining.

A fortunate kick return and Potts’ dominance quickly relieved Miami of its momentum. Potts stormed for a 21-yard touchdown run to end the RedHawks’ 17-0 start to the half. Trailing by eight following the Minnesota score, Gabbert tossed an inopportune interception across the center of the field. The Gophers exchanged the field possession for a 50-yard field goal by Kent State transfer kicker Matthew Trickett.

The 31-20 deficit seemed daunting but Miami handled it with poise. The RedHawks converted a critical 4th and 10 on their ensuing drive by means of a roughing the passer penalty. Then, Gabbert lobbed the ball to Mac Hippenhammer near the goal line. The Penn State transfer receiver corralled the ball in spectacular fashion for a touchdown. However, the RedHawks couldn’t inch within a field goal of the home team as they failed on their 2-point attempt.

With the offense rolling, Miami needed was the ball back. But Potts showed up in crunch time. The emerging running back tallied 27 yards on six handoffs to eat up the final 3:43 of clock and hand P.J. Fleck and the Gophers their first win of 2021.

It was a tale of two halves for the RedHawks. The team has yet to reach the end zone in the opening two quarters this season and has faced a collective halftime deficit of 56-3. However, Miami is outscoring opponents 37-24 in second halves through two games. The RedHawks will need to establish stronger offense out of the gate to avoid these letdowns in the future.

Plenty of that starts with the running game, which was limited to 104 yards Saturday. Gabbert led all ball carriers with 27 rushing yards and starting running back Keyon Mozee couldn’t find openings at the line of scrimmage. After a solid RedHawk debut in Week 1, Mozee only produced 19 yards on his 11 handoffs.

Gabbert elevated the level of the aerial attack this week. Sorenson rebounded from a slow start to the year with six receptions and 97 yards, often beating Gophers’ 1-on-1 coverage. Tight end Jack Coldiron was a force between the hashes as he secured four receptions for 67 yards. Miami more than doubled Minnesota’s passing output, so if the RedHawks slightly bolstered the running game or if they limited turnovers (lost turnover battle 2-0), the upset might have been for the taking.

For Chuck Martin’s team, a win should be expected in Week 3 against an FCS opponent in LIU. Miami makes its home debut at Yager Stadium, with fans in the building for the first time since the 2019 MAC title season.