Minnesota drops Montana State despite slow start

MINNEAPOLIS -- Eric Decker had nine catches for 157 yards and a touchdown to lead Minnesota to a 35-23 victory over Montana State on Saturday.

It took a while for the sluggish Gophers (3-0) to get going, but once Adam Weber started getting the ball to Decker, the Bobcats (1-2) didn't have an answer.

Freshman DeLeon Eskridge rushed for 114 yards and three touchdowns, replacing starter Duane Bennett, who tore his ACL in last week's victory over Bowling Green. Willie VanDeSteeg added 1 1/2 sacks and a blocked field goal for the Gophers.

Demetrius Crawford returned a kick 100 yards for a score and rushed for 76 yards for Montana State, which played the Big Ten's Gophers much tougher than they did Kansas State a week ago in losing 69-10.

DeAndre Green raced right past safety Tramaine Brock on a seam pattern and was wide open when he hauled in a 32-yard scoring pass from Cody Kempt to give the Bobcats a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter.

At that point, the Bobcats had outgained Minnesota 134-21 in total yards and they held the bigger, faster Gophers to just one first down in the first quarter.

Just when Minnesota appeared to be flexing its muscle -- with a 3-yard touchdown run by Weber and another by Eskridge following an interception by Traye Simmons -- plucky Montana State pushed back.

Crawford returned the ensuing kickoff for a score -- tying a school record for the longest return set in 1954 -- to cut Minnesota's lead to 14-13.

But the Bobcats simply didn't have enough for Decker, a 6-foot-2 junior. He caught a 44-yard pass to set up his nifty 3-yard scoring catch that gave the Gophers a 21-13 lead going into halftime.

Last week against Kansas State, the Bobcats were tied with the Wildcats 7-7 with 11:23 to go in the first half. The Wildcats then scored 62 of the next 65 points to blow Montana State out of Manhattan.

This time around, they hung right in there. But two interceptions -- Kempt threw one Mark Iddins the other -- deep in their own territory led to Gophers touchdowns. Iddins finished just 2-for-10 for 26 yards while Kempt was 13-for-28 for 172 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown.

The Gophers may have suffered another big loss when offensive lineman Dom Alford went down with an injury in the third quarter. The team did not immediately announce Alford's condition, but he spent the rest of the game with a walking boot on his left foot.

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2015 Big Sky Conference Standings

Southern Utah7-18-4
Portland State6-29-3
North Dakota5-37-4
Northern Arizona5-37-4
Eastern Washington5-36-5
Weber State5-36-5
Northern Colorado3-56-5
Montana State3-55-6
Cal Poly3-54-7
UC Davis2-62-9
Idaho State1-72-9
Sacramento State1-72-9