Taylor's return sparks Minnesota to win over Bowling Green in Quick Lane Bowl
DETROIT -- Freshman Darius Taylor returned from a leg injury to rush for a career-high 208 yards, and Minnesota beat Bowling Green 30-24 in the Quick Lane Bowl on Tuesday.
Minnesota (6-7), which was selected for the bowl because it had the best Academic Progress Rate among five-win teams, won its seventh consecutive bowl game overall and fifth in a row under coach P.J. Fleck.
Taylor, who had missed the Gophers' previous five games, had 35 carries, including a 17-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter that gave Minnesota a 30-17 lead. The 5-foot-11 running back, a Detroit native, averaged 176 yards during a three-game stretch in September, but had only played in one game since.
“It’s so cool to watch him come back to his home city and his home state and do what he did in front of a lot of people who came to support him,” Fleck said. “He’s a really special individual, a great young person. And he’s going to be one of the faces of this program for a long time.”
Taylor's return was crucial for Minnesota, which had senior Cole Kramer making his first career start at quarterback after Athan Kaliakmanis entered the transfer portal. Kramer was set to leave the program after the regular season, but stuck around even though he is planning a wedding to fiancee Katie Miller, who was in the stands Tuesday and was shown frequently on the ESPN telecast.
“We’re bowl champs with a lot of injuries,” Fleck said. “A lot of people would have folded, but this team did not, and Cole deserves a lot of credit. I’m really happy for his leadership and proud of his leadership and thankful for him.”
Kramer went 8-of-16 passing for just 26 yards, but he came through in the red zone, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. The Gophers ran the ball 44 times for 255 yards while holding Bowling Green to 82 yards rushing.
Conor Bazelak threw for two scores and ran for one for Bowling Green (7-6), which lost the Quick Lane Bowl for the second year in a row.
“I thought both teams played extremely hard,” Bowling Green coach Scot Loeffler said. “Both teams had some adversity that (they) had to overcome with people not playing. My hat’s off to Minnesota. They were able to make a few more plays than us.”
The Falcons led 10-9 at halftime, but the Gophers took control in the third quarter. Kramer capped an 11-play, 78-yard drive by scoring on a 1-yard sneak. Bowling Green went three-and-out, and Minnesota scored six plays later on a 7-yard pass from Kramer to Jameson Geers.
Bazelak scored on a 2-yard run to get the Falcons within six points with 2:33 remaining, but Minnesota recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
Bowling Green struck first on a 46-yard pass from Bazelak to Odieu Hiliaire less than a minute and a half into the game. Kramer responded with a 4-yard strike to Elijah Spencer. The 2-point conversion attempt failed.
Kramer, who had thrown one pass — which was intercepted — during the regular season, connected on his first five passes.
It was the teams' first meeting since Bowling Green won 14-10 at Minnesota on Sept. 25, 2011. Minnesota improved to 12-12 all-time in bowls, while Bowling Green fell to 5-10.
Bowling Green: The Falcons had 116 yards of offense in the first quarter — 75 on their opening drive. But they were held to 35 yards the next two quarters.
Minnesota: Taylor led the Gophers in rushing despite missing seven games.