Saturday, September 8, 2012
Gray, Gophers cruise to 2-0 start
By Adam Rittenberg
Big Ten teams should beat FCS teams. It's not a big deal when it happens.
But for a Minnesota program that had dropped consecutive games to FCS foes (North Dakota State and South Dakota) and has rarely enjoyed easy wins of any kind in recent years, Saturday was pretty nice. The Gophers took control immediately against New Hampshire and cruised to a 44-7 win behind senior quarterback MarQueis Gray and a defense that continues to impress early this season. Minnesota is 2-0 for the first time since 2009.
Both Brian Bennett and I picked Minnesota to win, but we both thought the Gophers would need to grind it out again after needing three overtimes to outlast a bad UNLV team in last week's opener. As it turned out, Minnesota had the game well in hand at halftime, surging to a 30-7 lead. Think about this: the Gophers failed to eclipse 30 points in a game all of last season, and needed three overtimes to do so against UNLV. The 44 points mark Minnesota's most in a regular-season game since it beat Indiana 63-26 on Nov. 14, 2006.
After a shaky performance and a misleading stat line in Vegas, Gray looked much more comfortable Saturday. He hit his open receivers, including Isaac Fruechte and touchdown machine John Rabe for touchdown strikes. He also used his athleticism against an inferior opponent, rushing for 109 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Gray supplied the biggest play of the game, breaking free for a 75-yard touchdown up the gut moments after New Hampshire had cut Minnesota's lead to 9-7 late in the first quarter. It marked Gray's longest play -- rush, pass or reception -- in a Gophers uniform. Although he didn't pass the ball much (eight attempts) he was effective (six completions, 100 yards, two touchdowns).
New Hampshire played without top quarterback Sean Goldrich for most of the game, as he injured his shoulder on the first series. But Minnesota clamped down on defense and continued to show improvement up front with four first-half sacks. Gophers defensive end D.L. Wilhite continued his nice start to the season with a sack and a forced fumble, which led to a Gophers score.
It's too soon to see how much Minnesota has improved in Jerry Kill's second year, and the Gophers should be tested more the next two weeks by Western Michigan and Syracuse. But so far, so good.