Johnson lifts Minnesota late to beat Georgia Southern 35-32

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — This Minnesota team has made falling behind in the fourth quarter a troubling habit.

The Gophers have also managed to turn those deficits into quite the stockpile of resiliency.

Tyler Johnson caught three touchdown passes from Tanner Morgan, including the go-ahead score with 13 seconds left on Saturday to give Minnesota yet another tense victory, a 35-32 decision despite fourth quarter miscues that gave Georgia Southern two long touchdowns.

“This team has some of the most heart I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” coach P.J. Fleck said.

Last week, Morgan found Chris Autman-Bell on fourth down for the tying 20-yard touchdown with 46 seconds left in regulation, before the Gophers beat Fresno State 38-35 in two overtimes. They trailed South Dakota State by one point midway through the fourth quarter, before pulling out a 28-21 victory.

Johnson, the star senior who deferred the NFL draft to stick with his hometown school for one more year, had 10 receptions for 140 yards in his third career three-touchdown game. On second-and-goal, Morgan floated a slightly underthrown pass to the corner of the end zone for a fade route. Johnson ran to grab it in front of Monquavion Brinson.

“Tyler cooked his guy,” Morgan said, “and made an elite play.”

The last-ditch drive netted 75 yards on 13 plays in 3:34, but a holding penalty and a sack pushed the Gophers back to their 6-yard line. Morgan hit Demetrius Douglas for 21 yards on third-and-29 and found him again on fourth down to keep the rally alive. Johnson and Rashod Bateman followed with two first-down catches apiece, before the winning score.

“We never had any doubt,” Johnson said. “We train for any situation that can possibly come up.”

With 6:05 remaining, Traver Vliem blocked Michael Lantz’s 36-yard field goal attempt before Brinson grabbed it and weaved around the field for a 77-yard touchdown. After a sideline interference penalty by the Eagles pushed the 2-point conversion play back to the 18-yard line, Justin Tomlin’s pass was incomplete, keeping the Gophers in front 28-26.

On the next possession, Rashad Byrd hit Morgan as he cocked his arm for a third down throw, leaped in the air to grab the ball, and ran 44 yards for the go-ahead score. The trick-play 2-point pass to left tackle Jarrod Leeds was completed, but Leeds was short of the goal line.

The Gophers (3-0) outgained the Eagles (1-2) in total yardage 382-198 and stretched the longest nonconference winning streak in the FBS to 18 straight games.

Morgan finished 19 for 31 for 289 yards under frequent pressure, but he threw an interception on Minnesota’s first drive that gave Georgia Southern the ball. Logan Wright scored on a 21-yard run on the ensuing play.