Things got off to a bit of a slow start for the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday afternoon against the New Hampshire Wildcats. Then, they remembered that they were a Big Ten team taking on an FCS opponent, and turned on the jets to eventually coast to a 44-7 victory over New Hampshire in their 2012 home opener.
Minnesota had lost their last two games against FCS opponents, dropping games to North Dakota State in 2011 and South Dakota State the year before that. (Maybe it's just teams from the Dakotas that are the problem.) But behind the arm and legs of Marqueis Gray and a very stout defensive performance, the Gophers thumped the Wildcats to give themselves their first three-game winning streak since 2009.
The Gophers got on the board first, as New Hampshire had a bad snap on a punt on their first possession. New Hampshire punter Andy MacCarthy tossed the ball out of the back of the end zone to make it 2-0 in favor of the home team. After a huge return for Troy Stoudermire gave the Gophers good field position, Gray found Isaac Fruechte for a 27-yard touchdown strike to make the lead 9-0.
New Hampshire did answer with a touchdown to make the score 9-7, but it was all Gophers after that, as Minnesota scored 35 unanswered points. Gray had touchdown runs of 75 and 11 yards, as well as a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Rabe. Running back Donnell Kirkwood had a 2-yard touchdown run in the second half as well. Even backup quarterback Max Shortell got into the act, leading the Gophers' last two offensive drives and hitting A.J. Barker for a 19-yard touchdown pass to provide the final margin of victory.
The Gophers forced two New Hampshire turnovers, both of which led to touchdowns. D.L. Wilhite forced a fumble from New Hampshire quarterback Andy Vailas that set up Gray's second touchdown run, and Martez Shabazz intercepted Vailas in the fourth quarter prior to the drive that ended with Shortell's touchdown pass. The interception by Shabbaz was the fourth by the Gophers this year, which ties their total for the entire 2011 season.
Gray finished the afternoon with 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. He added 100 yards and two touchdowns through the air on 6-of-8 passing. Shortell looked impressive in his short stint, completing 5-of-6 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. Minnesota gained 412 yards in total offense (including 240 on the ground), while holding New Hampshire to just 231. The Gophers were also an impressive 11-of-17 on third down, while holding the Wildcats to 5-of-16 in that same category.
The Gophers' next game will come next Saturday, when they will host the Western Michigan Broncos at TCF Bank Stadium. Western Michigan is currently 0-1, having lost to Illinois by a score of 24-7 in their season opener. They will be taking on Eastern Michigan at home starting at 6 PM Central time.