MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Duane Bennett rushed for a career-high 187 yards and Jon Hoese scored three touchdowns just days after deciding to make the trip to lead Minnesota to a grinding season-opening 24-17 win over Middle Tennessee on Thursday night.
Bennett becomes the first 100-yard rusher for the Gophers since 2008 and dominated the Blue Raiders over Minnesota's two game-clinching drives. He rushed for 64 yards as the Gophers held the ball for 15:41 on their way to a field goal and Hoese's 1-yard dive with 3:09 left.
Hoese's father had a severe stroke last week and the fullback didn't decide to join Minnesota on the trip until early this week. He kept coming up with big plays, including a fumble recovery on the kickoff after his final touchdown that iced the victory.
Bennett's rushing total is the most for Minnesota since 2006. He opened the game with a 32-yard run and never let up.
The Blue Raiders had hoped to show the nation they were ready for the big time, opening the season against a BCS conference opponent that looked vulnerable on ESPNU. But Minnesota exposed Middle Tennessee's fatal flaw -- its size.
Even without suspended starting left tackle Dom Alford, Minnesota's gargantuan offensive line, which averages 317 pounds, dominated Middle Tennessee's much smaller front seven. The Gophers ran 67 times for 281 yards and held the ball for 45:34 to the Blue Raiders' 14:26.
Minnesota took a quick 14-0 lead early in the second quarter on Hoese dives of 1 and 2 yards that were both set up by pass interference calls in the end zone.
Along with his two touchdowns he jump-started the game-tying drive with a 5-yard run and a 22-yard catch back to back after Minnesota started at the 1. He also picked up a fourth-down conversion on a drive that ended in a failed field goal.
Minnesota rushed for 111 yards by 13:48 of the second quarter when Hoese scored the second time.
Middle Tennessee rallied from their, though. The Blue Raiders had 174 yards of total offense in the second quarter after just 33 and one first down in the first. Quarterback Logan Kilgore, who had a strong game in place of suspended starter Dwight Dasher, hit 6 of 7 passes in the quarter for 111 yards. Passes of 14 and 22 yards helped set up Phillip Tanner's 7-yard scoring run out of the Wildcat formation.
After Minnesota's second failed field goal, he led Middle Tennessee on a five-play, 77-yard drive in 44 seconds, hitting a diving Sancho McDonald with a 22-yard scoring pass with 36 seconds left to tie the game 14-14 at halftime.
Tanner had a 51-yard run to open the second half, setting up Alan Gendreau's 31-yard field goal at 12:44 of the third quarter to give Middle Tennessee it's first lead 17-14.
From there, Bennett took over. He finished with 30 carries and averaged 6.1 yards per attempt and the Gophers held the Blue Raiders to just three more first downs. They had the ball just 3:22 after their field goal.
Kilgore, a sophomore junior college transfer, completed 13 of 18 passes for 172 yards and Tanner rushed for 82 yards on eight carries.
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