MINNEAPOLIS -- Eric Ellestad's 25-yard field goal with 2:22 remaining gave Minnesota the lead, and the struggling Gophers hung on for an ugly 16-13 victory over lower-division South Dakota State on Saturday.
Minnesota (6-5) settled for a pair of short kicks by Ellestad in the first quarter after driving to the 3- and 8-yard line, respectively. Adam Weber went 10 for 21 for 94 yards and an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Derek Domino.
D.L. Wilhite jogged in for a 3-yard touchdown after a fumble forced by blitzing cornerback Michael Carter, the only time the Gophers reached the end zone.
Early misfires by freshman quarterback Thomas O'Brien were too much for the Jackrabbits (7-3) to overcome in just their second game against a Football Bowl Subdivision foe since moving to the Football Championship Subdivision level in 2004.
Peter Reifenrath missed a 25-yard attempt in the third quarter, one of several lost opportunities on a frustrating afternoon for SDSU.
The Jackrabbits, ranked 12th in the latest FCS poll, need to win at Western Illinois next week and hope for an at-large invitation to the playoffs out of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Despite two interceptions and the lost fumble in the first half by O'Brien, who got the start over senior Ryan Crawford, SDSU led 10-6 early in the second quarter, forced the Gophers to punt eight times, and nearly duplicated what conference rival North Dakota State did in 2007 with a 27-21 win over Minnesota at the Metrodome.
After a breakout game in a thrilling 42-34 win over Michigan State two weeks ago, Weber and the Minnesota offense have reverted to their season-long woes. Ranked 106th out of 120 FBS teams in total yards entering the game, the Gophers are missing injured wide receiver Eric Decker badly and not giving Weber any time to throw.
The junior quarterback can't shake the blame, though. For the second straight week, Weber produced the dreaded pick six. Trying to avoid a sack early in the second quarter, Weber rolled to his right, then made a dangerous throw across the field. Domino, one of 10 Jackrabbits players who grew up in Minnesota, jumped in front of the pass and returned it 22 yards for an easy touchdown.
O'Brien was sharper after halftime and finished 15 for 39 for 183 yards.
The Gophers played their final home game of the season at sparkling TCF Bank Stadium, proving again that new buildings don't make teams better. They became bowl eligible with this win, but continue to be stuck in mediocrity under coach Tim Brewster in his third season.
One fan was spotted in the crowd with a sign, "Got Dungy?," a snarky suggestion that athletics director Joel Maturi should fire Brewster and try to hire the Super Bowl-winning former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, who played for the Gophers in the 1970s.
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|North Dakota State||7-1||13-2|
|South Dakota State||5-3||8-4|