Gophers' running back trio finally healthy
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota's trio of talented running backs has been talked about since last year. And on Saturday night, the three were finally seen in action together.
Led by Marion Barber III's three touchdowns, the Gophers easily defeated Tulsa 49-10 in their season opener.
Thomas Tapeh led the Gophers with 75 rushing yards; Barber had 48; and Terry Jackson II, who had more than 1,000 yards rushing last season, finished with 59 and a touchdown. The balanced running attack helped take the pressure off Asad Abdul-Khaliq, who went 13-for-17 for 204 yards with two TDs.
"Our running game was really clicking," Abdul-Khaliq said. "With the luxury of having three great running backs, it really opens up the passing game for me and makes the defense play honest."
The three-back offense is about a year overdue.
After an impressive freshman season, Barber was expected to lead the backfield last year, but he suffered a hamstring injury early in the season. Suddenly, the one-two punch of Barber and Tapeh was down to just Tapeh -- then Jackson emerged.
Barber's expected return never happened and he was given a medical redshirt, leaving Saturday night as the first time all three were completely healthy together for a game.
"It was exciting to be out there and be a part of it," Jackson said.
The Gophers also showed they have other offensive weapons.
Sophomore Jared Ellerson caught seven passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns, the most yards receiving by a Gopher since Ron Johnson had 181 against Iowa in 2001.
Ellerson and Abdul-Khaliq combined for the best play of the night.
Abdul-Khaliq threw the ball into the left corner of the end zone. Aaron Hosack -- who also had a TD reception in the second quarter -- and Tulsa cornerback Oliver Fletcher went for the ball, which tipped out of Hosack's hands. Ellerson was waiting behind Hosack and made the catch to put the Gophers ahead 35-0 at halftime.
"We practice that too," Ellerson said with a grin. "All I saw was a thousand hands and then the ball come out of nowhere."
Tulsa avoided the shutout on James Kilian's 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
"Tonight was not at all a lack of effort," Kilian said. "We just misexecuted."
The thrashing spoiled the debut of Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe, who was hired in December to replace Keith Burns. But Kragthorpe, a former Buffalo Bills assistant, remained optimistic.
"We were in position to make some plays, but just couldn't finish," he said. "There were things in this game to learn from and improve upon."
Tulsa was simply outmatched against the bigger, quicker Gophers. The Hurricane gained 265 total yards to Minnesota's 531.
"Minnesota is tough for us to do things against," Kilian said. "They're so big and we couldn't move them out of the way to run the ball."
On the opposite side, the Gophers' offensive line easily opened up holes for their running backs to bull through.
"When holes look like that, anyone can run through them," Barber said.
Saturday also marked the debut of Minnesota kicker Rhys Lloyd, who officially became eligible on Friday. Lloyd didn't attempt a field goal but made all of his extra point attempts.
"In a short time, this kid has shown me that he can make the tough kicks," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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