The Minnesota Golden Gophers managed to survive Thursday night's season opener, knocking off the UNLV Rebels in three overtimes in Las Vegas. The stat sheet shows that the Gophers probably should have won by a significantly larger margin than the three points they were victorious by, but our friends at The Daily Gopher can tell you exactly why that wasn't the case.
When you look at most of the numbers, this looks like a game where the Gophers played great. If I were to tell you that (Marqueis) Gray would complete 56.7% of his passes for 269 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception; I think we'd all be pretty pleased with those numbers. Donnell Kirkwood ran the ball great leading a Gopher rushing attack that gained 226 yards. The defense held UNLV to 13 points and 222 yards in regulation while generating three total turnovers. In total we outgained our opponent 478 to 275. The defensive line did a nice job getting pressure on the QB getting 2 sacks and a number of hits on the passer. On paper we sort of dominated.
But the Gophers continually got in their own way. Gray's numbers look good on paper but he had two beautiful opportunities to hit wide open receivers for easy touchdowns, one to John Rabe on the first possession and the one to (Andre) McDonald when the DB fell down. Complete one of those and we don't play OT, complete them both and I would have gone to bed an hour earlier. Troy Stoudermire bobbles a punt and follows that up with a PI penalty that gives UNLV their lone regulation touchdown. Add to those plays 11 penalties, Gray's interception, TERRIBLE punting, lack of contain defensively and you created an environment for UNLV to stick around and nearly win that game.
Yes, the Gophers came out with a victory on Thursday night. However, with all due respect to UNLV, if they look the way they did last night when it comes time for Big Ten action, it's going to be a long season for Jerry Kill's squad. Among the 11 penalties that the Gophers committed last night were a couple of personal fouls that allowed drives to be extended, and when you're a team that has the razor-thin margin for error that the Gophers have, those sorts of things simply can't become a trend.
As The Daily Gopher said, Marqueis Gray did look pretty good on paper, racking up 337 yards of offense (269 passing yards, 68 rushing yards), but he could have had so much more and made things a lot easier for the Gophers had he not missed a couple of wide open receivers during the course of the game. Hopefully Gray can get a better handle on his accuracy during the course of the season.
Defensively, after a shaky first series, the Gophers did a pretty good job. UNLV's lone touchdown came when they started inside the Minnesota 35 after Stoudermire's muffed punt, and for the most part Minnesota's defense really controlled things. Safety Derrick Wells was particularly impressive with eight tackles and two interceptions, including the big one in overtime that allowed the Gophers to win it with Jordan Wettstein's field goal in the third overtime. Wells has a lot of potential at safety, and it will be interesting to see how he and the defense will develop as the season progresses.
Yes, it wasn't especially pretty, but the Minnesota Golden Gophers are 1-0, and headed back to the Twin Cities to prepare for the 2012 home opener against New Hampshire. It's always better to win ugly than to lose pretty, and the Gophers are quite happy to have gotten that first game under their belts with a W.