The Minnesota Golden Gopher football team had quite the weekend.
It began with a blowout victory over the Purdue Boilermakers in Philip Nelson’s first career start at TCF Bank Stadium. The weekend concluded Monday when the Big Ten Conference announced that Nelson and Michael Carter earned Big Ten Conference Co-Freshman of the Week and and Co-Defensive Player of the Week, respectively.
Nelson, a true freshman quarterback from Mankato, Minn., completed 15 of 22 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 37 rushing yards and, most importantly, did not turn the ball over.
The Gophers offense moved the ball efficiently and easily against the Boilermaker defense, including four consecutive scoring drives of 60 yards or more.
“He took step one last week, and he took another step here at home. I thought he played outstanding,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “We were able to move the chains and score touchdowns, and he was accurate on the deep ball. We actually dropped a couple, which was unfortunate or he would have had an even bigger day.
“There was good timing and, again, when your quarterback doesn’t turn over the football, moves the chains, and puts points on the board, and he’s a freshman, that’s a good sign for the future.”
Carter, a senior cornerback from Pompano Beach, Fla., registered six tackles, six pass breakups and an interception for a touchdown. He opened the second half with one of the greatest individual drives possible for a cornerback. He knocked both of the first two passes from Caleb TerBush before turning the third into a pick-six. It was the first interception returned for a touchdown by a Gopher since Traye Simmons in 2008.
“I saw the fans,” Carter said after the game. “I just ran that way. All I saw was daylight and the fans cheering.”
Carter’s three previous years at the University of Minnesota were tumultuous to say the least. The cousin of former Gopher great Tyrone Carter, Michael has been in and out of the lineup due to attitude and academic issues. He seems to have matured just in time with one year of football eligibility remaining.
“I have coached 30 years and I don’t know if I have ever seen a corner have things go like that,” Kill said. “They kept throwing over there and the third time he jumped it and made a big play. I was happy for Michael. He has been through a lot and I am happy for his success.”
Nelson shares the freshman honor with Nebraska Cornhusker linebacker David Santos and Carter shares the defensive honor with Ohio State Buckeye linebacker Ryan Shazier.
The Gophers had three players score their first career touchdowns Saturday. Former Winona State transfer wide receiver Derrick Engel caught a 34-yard pass from Nelson and got the scoring started for his first score. Freshman running back Rodrick Williams powered his way into end zone from four yards out to give the Gophers its first lead for his first touchdown. Carter scored the final touchdown of the Gophers afternoon with the interception return for his first touchdown.
The Gophers return to action Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium against the Michigan Wolverines in the battle for the Little Brown Jug.