Gophers vs. Aggies: Despite injuries in the backfield, Minnesota’s offense will persevere


Aug 29, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; A general view of the Minnesota Golden Gophers team and fans after a game against the UNLV Rebels at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers won 51-23. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers are set for their road opener against the New Mexico State Aggies Saturday night at 7 p.m. CT. The Aggies are coming off a loss to No. 15 Texas in which New Mexico was defeated 56-7 while allowing more than 700 total yards of offense. The Gophers, on the other hand, are coming off a win against UNLV at TCF Bank Stadium, 51-23.


— Minnesota Offense:

The Gophers are dealing with numerous injuries, along with players being forced to sit out, on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receiver Andre McDonald is out for the year for a violation of team policy, and fellow receiver Jamel Harbison will sit out his second straight game for the same reason.

In the backfield, running backs Donnell Kirkwood and Berkley Edwards are questionable with ankle injuries. Edwards is likely out while Kirkwood remains a possibility to play against the Aggies. True freshman wide receiver Donovahn Jones will see an expanded role on Saturday according to head coach Jerry Kill. The 6-foot-3, 190 pound product from Georgia has all the physical tools to be special, but is still trying to learn to play wide receiver after starting camp as a quarterback. Meanwhile, look for quarterback Philip Nelson to go to the air early and often against New Mexio State. Nelson still has plenty of weapons with receivers: KJ Maye, Derrick Engel, Isaac Fruechte, and tight end Maxx Williams.

If Nelson can get in a groove early on, it will prevent New Mexico State from putting nine men in the box and should free up some running lanes for backup tailbacks Rodrick Williams and David Cobb.

— New Mexico State Offense: 

Quarterback Andrew McDonald can sling it a bit.  He completed 32-of-46 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and an interception at Texas last weekend. McDonald will complete some passes against the Gophers but the main duty of the defense will be to limit the yardage on those completions like the Longhorns did to McDonald Austin last Saturday in a blowout victory for Texas.

The Aggies don’t have much of a running game as McDonald was the leading rusher last week but tailback Germi Morrison was the leading rusher from the position carrying the ball 12 times for just 31 yards. The strength of the Gophers’ defense is the pass defense so this match up should definitely play in favor of Minnesota.

Offensive Edge: Minnesota


— Minnesota Defense: 

The Gophers only sacked UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry once last weekend.  Minnesota should be licking their chops this weekend as the Aggies have a weak running game, which should force New Mexico State into numerous third and long situations. Expect defensive ends Theiren Cockran, Alex Keith, Ben Perry, and Michael Amaefula to apply a bunch of pressure on those third and longs putting Andrew McDonald on his back and making it a long and miserable evening for the junior quarterback from Newport Beach, Cali.

— New Mexico State Defense: 

Let’s see here: the Aggies, after pitching a shutout for the first 28 minutes against Texas somehow managed to give up 715 yards of offense to the Longhorns by the final whistle. New Mexico State has an awful defense, it’s as simple as that. Former Eden Prairie High School standout Willie Mobley plays defensive end for the Aggies. Remember him? He’s now 24-years-old after bouncing around from Ohio State, Arizona (where he graduated with a degree in economics) and is currently working towards a master’s degree in criminal justice. Good for Willie.

Defensive Edge: Minnesota


— Minnesota Special Teams: 

Marcus Jones is back!  After suffering two ACL injuries he returned a kickoff 98 yards for a score against UNLV and showed considerable burst on his other returns as well. Jones will be a weapon for the Gophers this year returning kicks. Kicker Chris Hawthorne showed an adequate leg on kickoffs, but still struggles with his accuracy kicking field goals. Hawthorn connected on 1-of-2 field goals last week. Punter Peter Mortell did a solid job averaging 38 yards on three punts in Week 1.

— New Mexico State Special Teams: 

Oregon State transfer Maxwell Johnson has a big leg. He handled kickoff duties for the Aggies last year and will handle it again in addition to being responsible for field goals and extra points in 2013.  Not a whole lot to report on here. Adam Shapiro returned five kicks for 122 yards in the opener, with a long of 29 yards.

Special Teams Edge: Minnesota


— Minnesota Coaching: 

Jerry Kill’s team didn’t play a dominant offensive or defensive game last week against UNLV and they still found a way to win by 28 points. I am going to chalk that one up to good coaching. Scoring twice on special teams, once on defense, and getting stronger as the game progressed is another sign of good coaching. The Gophers also only committed one penalty for five yards signifying that Kill has installed discipline to this team. Those that don’t play by the rules will be punished (see Andre McDonald, Jamel Harbison, and Rodrick Williams). Williams was forced to sit out the first half last week for disciplinary reasons).

— New Mexico State Coaching: 

Doug Martin is a highly regarded offensive coach, having served as offensive coordinator at East Tennessee State, East Carolina, New Mexico State, and Boston College, not to mention a head coaching stint with the Kent State Golden Flashes of the MAC from 2004-10. He tutored All-MAC quarterback Josh Cribbs who developed into one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country.

Coaching Edge: Minnesota

Prediction: Minnesota 42, New Mexico State 17

The Gophers solve their offensive woes early in this one and never look back. The defense sacks quarterback Andrew Manley six times and the Gophers put up style points for the first time this year.