Minnesota 20, Alabama 16
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Marion Barber III ran for 187 yards and a touchdown and teammate Laurence Maroney added 105 yards on the ground to lead Minnesota to a 20-16 win over Alabama in the Music City Bowl on Friday.
Barber and Maroney were the only runners to go over 100 yards in a game this season against the Crimson Tide, who entered the game with the nation's second-ranked defense.
The Golden Gophers (7-5) ran for 276 yards to overcome three turnovers -- including two by Barber -- on their first three drives. Still, they nearly gave the game away in the fourth quarter.
Rhys Lloyd, who made field goals from 27 and 24 yards, missed a 24-yard attempt with 5:34 left that would have sealed the victory.
On Minnesota's next possession, it was pinned deep in its own end and elected to take a safety to make it 20-16 rather than attempt a punt.
The decision nearly backfired.
Alabama's Tyrone Prothro returned the free kick to the Minnesota 48, and four completions by Spencer Pennington got the Crimson Tide to the 15. But Pennington overthrew an open receiver for a likely touchdown on third down and couldn't convert a fourth-and-5 with 1:14 to left, ending the game.
Alabama (6-6), making an NCAA-record 52nd bowl appearance, were forced to throw throughout the game with leading rusher Kenneth Darby limited because of an abdominal strain. The Crimson Tide had minus-2 yards rushing in the first half and finished with 21.
Pennington, who finished 22-of-36 for 243 yards and a touchdown, frequently tried to let receivers make plays using short passes. In the second quarter, he found Keith Brown on a curl route, and Brown shook a defender for a 40-yard gain. That set up Le'Ron McClain's 1-yard TD plunge with 2:57 left to cut Minnesota's halftime lead to 17-14.
But it was as close as Alabama would get.
The Gophers scored 17 straight points after falling behind 7-0 when Barber fumbled on the second play of the game and tried to pick the ball up instead of falling on it.
The Crimson Tide scored on the next play when Pennington threw a 2-yard TD pass to McClain.
The Gophers tied the score when defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery forced Pennington to fumble and Keith Lipka recovered in the end zone.
Minnesota quarterback Brian Cupito finished 5-of-12 for 75 yards.
Alabama fans, rabid for a return to the postseason for the first time since 2001, were out in force in the highest-attended Music City Bowl since the game began in 1998. The Alabama state line is less than an hour from Nashville, and the crowd of 66,089 was overwhelmingly crimson and white outside of two small sections behind the Golden Gophers' bench.
But the most storied program in college football have to wait at least another year for a postseason win, as Southeastern Conference teams fell to 1-6 in the Music City Bowl.