Coming off a less-than-impressive win over the UNLV rebels in Sin City last Thursday, Jerry Kill and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers had plenty to focus on as they prepared to open their home schedule against the University of New Hampshire on Saturday.
Much of the criticism of the Gophers’ opening-week performance fell on the shoulders of senior quarterback MarQueis Gray, who struggled mightily when it came to hitting open receivers in a close game.
Minnesota set the tone on defense early, forcing a safety on New Hampshire’s first drive, the first the Gophers had seen since September 2, 2000.
When given a real chance to atone for his Week 1 issues, Gray certainly did that early on, finding wide receiver Isaac Fruechte for a 27-yard touchdown. Gray would later break off a 75-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, the longest play of his career as a Gopher.
After flexing their defensive muscle in Week 1, the Gophers did show the occasional lapse in judgment against the Wildcats, giving up an eight-play, 76-yard scoring drive in which the secondary left receiver after receiver open in stride.
Kill wouldn’t let his defense sleep for long, however, as a forced fumble by the Gophers defense on their next stand gave the offense an 18-yard field to work with.
Gray would then call his own name once again, increasing the Gophers’ halftime lead to 30-7.
The Gophers wouldn’t let off the gas as the second half got underway, as Donnell Kirkwood would cap off an eight-minute, 85-yard drive with a touchdown run on 4th-and-goal from the two-yard line.
Despite some lapses by the Gophers secondary at times in the second half, the Wildcats weren’t able to get anything going, as New Hampshire managed only 14 first downs on 13 possessions, finishing the day with 231 total yards of offense.
When the Gophers took to the offensive side of things in the fourth quarter, it was sophomore Max Shortell under center, as Gray was given the rest of the day off after a 6-for-8 day in which he passed for 100 yards and ran for another 109, good for four total touchdowns.
If all goes as planned during the 2012 season, Shortell will only be seen during garbage time, but he certainly gave reason to believe he’s up to the task on Saturday, leading an 86-yard touchdown drive to extend the rout to 44-7 and eating up nearly half of the game’s final quarter.
With better than 47,000 on hand for the opener, the Gophers gave their fanbase plenty of reason for optimism in 2012, something they’ll look to build on next Saturday when they play host to the Western Michigan Broncos.
Photos via thedailygopher.com