Jerry Kill’s third season as the head coach of the Gophers is off to a good start as Minnesota beat UNLV 51-23 Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium.
While the Runnin’ Rebels’ offense out-performed the Gophers 418 yards to 328, Minnesota was able to pull away with the 28-point victory thanks to several big plays by the special teams unit.
Minnesota’s special teams scored two touchdowns in the second half, including a 98-yard kickoff return by Marcus Jones following half-time. The Gophers also blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter, returning it 52 yards for another touchdown.
The defense also stepped up in the fourth quarter as defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun jumped a pass from UNLV’s Nick Sherry, returning it 89 yards to put the Gophers up 37-16.
Quarterback Philip Nelson would add his second rushing touchdown on the night in the fourth quarter to make it 44-16 before stepping aside and letting redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner take the helm under center for the final few drives of the game.
Leidner, who did not attempt a pass, rushed three times for 27 yards, including a four yard quarterback keeper for a touchdown that broke the 50-point barrier for Minnesota.
The 51 points scored is the most points put up by Minnesota in TCF Bank Stadium history.
Nelson, who is taking over his first full season as the signal-caller for Minnesota, finished the game 10-of-23 passing for 100 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns, including a 48-yard scamper in the beginning of the second quarter to give Minnesota its first lead at 10-6.
Starting running back Donnell Kirkwood was pulled from the game in the third quarter after sustaining an injury to his right leg. He did not return to the field. The redshirt junior had 29 yards on 11 carries for Minnesota in the game.
Speaking of the rushing game, junior running back David Cobb had 70 yards for the Gophers including a 60-yard burst in the second half. In all, Minnesota rushed for 228 yards compared to just 100 yards in the air.