By FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tyler Johnson had 12 receptions for 204 yards and two touchdowns Wednesday to become Minnesota’s career receiving leader and propel the 16th-ranked Gophers to a 31-24 victory over No. 9 Auburn in the Outback Bowl.
Johnson broke Eric Decker’s school record for receiving yards on his second catch of the day and became Minnesota’s all-time leader for scoring receptions on a one-handed, 2-yard TD catch that put the Gophers (11-2) up 24-17 at halftime. His 73-yard catch-and-run put his team ahead for good early in the fourth quarter.
Minnesota, which began the season with nine straight victories before losing two of its last three to Big Ten rivals Iowa and Wisconsin, finished with more than 10 wins for the first time since 1904. Auburn (9-4) concluded a season in which all four of its losses came against opponents ranked in the Top 25.
Tanner Morgan completed 19 of 29 passes for 278 yards, one interception and both of the TDs to Johnson, who finished with 3,305 receiving yards and 33 TD catches in his career. Receiver Seth Green tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Witham on fourth-and-inches midway through the second quarter.
Noah Igbinoghene, who mother and father were both Olympic track and field athletes in Nigeria, returned a kickoff 96 yards for Auburn’s first touchdown. Bo Nix threw a 37-yard TD pass to Sal Cannella and JaTarvious Whitlow scored 3-yard run that made it 24-24 heading into the fourth quarter.
Morgan broke the tie with his second TD throw to Johnson, who posted the 16th 100-yard game of his career and caught at least one TD pass for the seventh straight game, tying a another school record.
The Gophers dominated on the ground, too, outrushing Auburn 215 yards to 56. Mohamed Ibrahim ran for 140 yards on 20 carries, and Rodney Smith finished with 69 on 16 attempts.
Nix was 17 of 26 for 176 yards, one TD and no interceptions.
Auburn: The Tigers finished the season with two victories against teams that entered the bowls in the AP top-10 in Oregon and Alabama and lost to Florida, Georgia and LSU by a combined 21 points.
Minnesota: Playing in a New Year’s Day game for just the second time since making back-to-back trips to the Rose Bowl during the 1960 and 1961 season, the Gophers showed their resurgence under Fleck isn’t a fluke.
Auburn: With Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year Derrick Brown and All-SEC end Marlon Davidson departing, the Tigers will have a couple of big holes to fill next season. Meanwhile, Nix will be counted on for continued growth at quarterback. He’s the first true freshman since 1946 to start an Auburn season opener, and winning nine games against arguably the toughest schedule in the nation speaks to his vast potential.
Minnesota: Fleck has engineered a dramatic turnaround in three seasons. The challenge now is to sustain the success in one of the toughest conferences in the country.