Minneapolis — Minnesota had trouble moving the ball all afternoon against a mid-major opponent, and coach Jerry Kill was in a testy mood.
“We did win,” Kill said as he stood up to finish a postgame news conference capped by a question about frustration of the booing fans.
The offense’s performance was hardly victorious.
Mitch Leidner and the Golden Gophers survived another shaky showing, using a second-quarter touchdown pass to K.J. Maye to eke out a 10-7 victory Saturday over the Golden Flashes.
“I don’t have the magical answer right now, but I better get it,” Kill said, “or I don’t deserve to be here.”
Freshman cornerback Demetrius Monday was the star of a feisty performance by the Kent State defense, with two interceptions in the first half and an 80-yard touchdown return in the third quarter of a fumble he forced himself.
Leidner finished 17-for-27 for 184 yards, but the junior just hasn’t been able to establish a rhythm in the pocket. That’s a glaring problem for a team set on winning the Big Ten’s West Division.
The Gophers (2-1) at least have their defense, which has been building a case as the best in the conference. They set a goal this week to get a shutout and, technically, achieved it while holding the Flashes (1-2) to 142 yards on 59 plays.
“We just grind out each game even if the offense is stalling. We are still going to be clicking on every level. It wasn’t a pretty game, but it’s a game we like,” said defensive end Alex Keith.
Anthony Melchiori’s 10th punt for the Flashes netted 2 yards from the Minnesota 42, the farthest the Flashes advanced in the game. Then Rodney Smith, who had 73 yards on 30 carries, was tackled for a loss on third-and-16 to prompt another possession change. The Flashes took over at their 7, but Colin Reardon misfired on four of five passes.
Ryan Santoso, whose 42-yard field goal capped the opening drive, missed from 44 yards to give the Flashes yet another try with 1:18 left. Reardon, who went 10-for-28 for 63 yards, was sacked by Julian Huff on third down and threw well off the mark again on fourth down.
“Disappointing, just because we were so close,” coach Paul Haynes said, “but super proud of this team.”
This was the first victory by the Gophers in 10 games under Kill with three or more turnovers.
Leidner didn’t have much help. With left guard Jon Christenson out following knee surgery and Joe Bjorklund starting instead, the offensive line struggled again. Leidner wasn’t made available to the media.
“He’s been positive in trying to keep everybody up,” said Maye, who has caught three of Leidner’s four touchdown passes this season. “We’ve been doing fine on offense. We just have to make some adjustments.”
Freshman backup Demry Croft warmed up on the sideline but didn’t get in. Kill wouldn’t go there.
“I’m not going to make any comments on the quarterback. I’m just not. That’s not being disrespectful or anything like that,” Kill said.
Minnesota had a decent drive to start the second half, until Rashad Still’s third-down reception was stopped by Monday, who wrestled the ball out, plucked it off the turf and sprinted away untouched.
“I just thought, ‘I’ve got to score. I’ve got to do something with it. I can’t look at it and just fall,’ ” Monday said.
This was by far Kent State’s best showing against the Big Ten. The Flashes lost 52-3 to Illinois two weeks ago, 66-0 to Ohio State last season and 34-0 to Penn State two years ago.
Kent State third-string kicker April Goss, who last week became just the second woman to score in a major college football game with an extra point in a win over Delaware State, traveled with the team but did not get in the game.