Gophers vs. UNLV: Minnesota loses edge on special teams


August 30, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UNLV Rebels running back Tim Cornett (35) is brought down by Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive back Derrick Wells (13) during the overtime period at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The football season kicks off for the Gophers and the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota finished 2012 with a bowl bid — a loss to Texas Tech at the Meineke Car Care Bowl — and a 6-7 record while the Runnin’ Rebels finished the season 2-11 overall.

Minnesota Offense vs. UNLV Defense: The Gophers offense should be able to impose their will on the Rebels’ defense.  UNLV gave up 207 yards rushing per game last year.  The Gophers should easily eclipse 250 yards rushing allowing quarterback Philip Nelson and the passing game to pick their opportunities downfield.

Edge: Minnesota

UNLV Offense vs. Minnesota Defense: The Gophers front seven threw UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry around like a rag doll last year in Las Vegas.  With Sherry on his back most of the night, the Rebels passing game struggled.  Don’t expect anything to change, in fact, according to multiple reports, the UNLV passing offense has struggled in camp.

However, the Rebels’ running game should be just fine with senior running back Tim Cornett, who rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns against the Gophers last year. If Cornett and the running game get going, the Rebels could keep the game close.

Edge: Minnesota

Special Teams: Marcus Jones is back and better than ever from two ACL surgeries.  While he won’t be getting much playing time at corner, he is the Gophers’ main kick and punt returner.  Jones has great speed and could easily take one to the house with an open lane.  Chris Hawthorne appears to have recaptured the place kicking duties and Kill seems to have four players capable of handling the punting duties, at least according to the latest depth chart. On the other end, UNLV kicker Nolan Kohorst was named Preseason First Team All-Mountain West by Athlon Sporting News.  Kohort connected on 12-of-14 field goal attempts last year.  That consistency from the place kicker is something the Gophers have lacked the past few years.

Edge: UNLV

Coaching: Nothing personal against UNLV coach Bobby Hauck who did some nice things coaching at Montana, but this is a landslide.  Jerry Kill has Minnesota on the right trajectory while Hauck has only been able to win two games at UNLV in each of his first three seasons.

Edge: Minnesota

Intangibles: It will be hot and humid in Minneapolis on Thursday night – expected game day temp of 91 degrees.  Minnesota has more depth so that could play a factor.  Add in the fact the crowd will be rowdy since it’s a night game and booze is served on the premises and the intangibles are all Minnesota.

Edge: Minnesota

Prediction: Minnesota 38-13

I don’t think this one will be close.  In year three of the Jerry Kill regime, at home against a team that has won only six games in the past 3 years.  The Gophers should be able to cruise to a big halftime lead before emptying their bench in the second half.