SAN DIEGO — The Minnesota Golden Gophers stifled Washington State’s vaunted offense to prevail in the Holiday Bowl 17-12 on Tuesday night.
The Golden Gophers (9-4) snapped a two-game losing streak with a steady running game to keep the ball away from the Cougars (8-5), who they dropped their third straight contest and scored a season low in points.
Rodney Smith’s 74 rushing yards and his late 9-yard scoring run paced a Minnesota ground game which produced 151 yards.
Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner completed 11 of 29 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Cougars quarterback Luke Falk was stymied by the Golden Gophers’ secondary, which was playing without two starters. Falk completed 30 of 51 passes for 264 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His scoring pass to Kyle Sweet came in the last minute.
The Cougars entered the game with the nation’s No. 2 passing attack, averaging 370 yards per game.
Minnesota was playing minus 10 players after they were suspended for being involved in a sexual assault incident in September. The Gophers boycotted two days of practice before deciding to play in the Holiday Bowl.
Minnesota took its first lead of the game at 10-6 when Shannon Brooks hauled in a 13-yard pass from Leidner late in the third quarter. Brooks made the reception in the end zone, but only after Marcellus Pippins deflected the pass with his right arm and directed it to Brooks.
The Gophers drained 5:22 off the clock as they marched 84 yards, just 26 fewer yards than they gained in the first half.
Washington State, which averaged 40.3 points entering the contest, had four consecutive three-and-outs in the first half. Then it got a break when Nnamdi Oguayo forced a fumble by Leidner in the second quarter and Isaac Dotson pounced on it inside the Minnesota 40-yard line.
But the Cougars settled for Erik Powell’s 41-yard field goal, his second of the half, to take a 6-3 lead.
Minnesota took advantage of a short punt in getting its best field position of the half. The Golden Gophers went only 15 yards to set up Emmit Carpenter, who was fourth in scoring in the Big Ten this year, for a 43-yard field goal. Carpenter’s effort glanced off the right upright before trickling over the crossbar.
The Cougars capped their first possession, a 17-play, 76-yard drive lasting 6:23, with a field goal after stalling at the Minnesota 9. Powell converted his 26-yard attempt for a 3-0 edge.
NOTES: It was Minnesota’s first California bowl appearance since the 1962 Rose Bowl, when it beat UCLA 21-3. … The Golden Gophers played in their fifth straight bowl game, which is tied for the longest streak in school history. … Washington State’s Mike Leach directed the Cougars to three bowl games in four seasons. He’s the first Cougars coach to do that in his first five years at the school. … Washington State set a school record by scoring at least 50 points in four games this season.