Minnesota, Indiana look to build on wins

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
5:30
PM ET
Forget for a moment the opponents or how it was accomplished. Just take a quick look at the standings. Minnesota and Indiana are both 1-0.

This qualifies as newsworthy for two teams which combined to go 4-20 last year, which included 0-2 starts for each. Simply getting the season off to the right kind of start is a big deal for each club.

Now, the fact that the Hoosiers and Gophers struggled to get those victories over subpar competition shows that both still have a lot to work on. But both teams feel a lot better about doing that after a victory.

Minnesota's 30-27 triple-overtime win at UNLV was the team's second straight victory, going back to last year's finale against Illinois. Head coach Jerry Kill saw a lot of positives in the opener. He called the play of the defensive line the best he's seen in his 13 games as Gophers coach. Kill praised junior defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman and senior end D.L. Wilhite in particular, saying Wilhite had the best game of his career.

The defense came up with three interceptions, and the running game produced 209 yards, led by Donnell Kirkwood's 81 yards.

"That was a pleasant surprise," Kill said of the running game. "Donnell was a totally different player than he was a year ago."

Of course, UNLV has only won four games since 2009, and the Gophers had a chance to pull away early. Quarterback MarQueis Gray completed 17 of 30 passes for 269 yards but missed several open receivers for big gains.

"I think his adrenaline was going, and he was excited about playing," Kill said. "But he's got to be able to put it on people."

Gray bounced back and threw two touchdown passes in the overtime periods. And that's what Kill liked best about his team: its resiliency.

"Some things didn't go our way, and we just hung in there," he said. "We had some guys step up and make a play, which we haven't done since I've been here. It was good to see us make a play to go win the game."

Indiana's Kevin Wilson had seen almost none of that in Bloomington after his team went just 1-11 last year. So even though the Hoosiers weren't wildly impressive in beating FCS Indiana State 24-17 at home, a win is a win for a team that hadn't experienced one since Sept. 17 of last year.

It wasn't easy, though. Indiana State had four possessions in the fourth quarter where it could have tied the score, but the Hoosiers' defense held on.

"Even though it was close, I don't think our kids panicked any," Wilson said. "We've always kind of folded when things didn't go our way. ... To get a 'W'' where it wasn't easy was good and a growing step for us, I believe."

One of Wilson's priorities this offseason was increasing the offensive efficiency and turning yards into points. Indiana didn't succeed at that as well he would like in Week 1, as it rolled up 451 yards and no turnovers, but came away with just 24 points. The effort included two missed field-goal attempts and a failed fourth-down conversion attempt in Sycamores' territory.

Wilson admitted that he and his staff called a conservative game because the team had so many young starters, especially on the offensive line. The Hoosiers will get some experience back this week when veteran receiver Kofi Hughes and senior defensive back Lawrence Barnett return from one-game suspensions. And while Wilson said his team has had trouble handling any kind of success, he thought the first two practices this week were the best IU has had during his tenure.

"We're a team everyone doesn't have a lot of respect for, and we know that," he said. "We're just trying to not talk about it but earn it with our play."

Minnesota hosts FCS New Hampshire and should be heavily favored. The Gophers are trying to improve the atmosphere at TCF Bank Stadium, so winning this game is paramount for building fan support. Indiana goes to UMass, which will be playing its first home game as an FBS member (if you consider Gillette Stadium, which is more than 90 miles from the Minutemen's campus, as a true home). UMass lost 37-0 to UConn last week.

Nothing is guaranteed with either team. But if the Gophers and Hoosiers continue to make strides after their openers, they could both be 2-0 at the same time for the first time since 2009.

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