Gophers replay Gophers 48, New Mexico State 10
The Gophers’ 2018 season opener didn’t get off to a fast start, with New Mexico State taking a 10-7 lead at TCF Bank Stadium, but Minnesota responded with a dominant second quarter. Behind the sharp passing of true freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad and the efficient rushing of Rodney Smith, the Gophers had touchdown drives of 75, 79 and 84 yards. Throw in Antoine Winfield Jr.’s 76-yard punt return for a TD, and the Gophers had a 35-10 lead that put the game out of reach.
The Gophers defense was dominant, too, giving up the lone Aggies touchdown on a turnover deep in Minnesota territory. The Gophers gave up 271 yards to New Mexico State but only 81 after halftime. Aggies quarterback Matt Romero passed for 233 yards, but he needed 58 attempts to do so and was sacked four times.
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Smith climbs the charts
Running back Rodney started his senior season on a high note by rushing 24 times for 153 yards and amassing 189 all-purpose yards. He moved up to seventh on the Gophers career rushing list with 2,958 yards and seventh on the all-purpose yards list with 4,039.
Smith was particularly effective in the second quarter, when he rushed for 94 yards on 10 carries.
“We wanted him to [take the game over]. We needed him to,’’ Fleck said.
Paving the way
The Gophers gained 522 yards of offense, including 295 on the ground. In addition, New Mexico State had no sacks. Fleck saw an offensive line that’s pointed in the right direction.
“It’s a work in progress. It’s always developing,’’ he said. “We’ve got to play better together collectively. Offensive line isn’t about how good you are as an individual, it’s about how well you all play as one big amoeba. … The more the offensive line plays together, the better they’re going to be.’’
Game ball and a scholarship
After the game, Fleck awarded a game ball and a scholarship to sophomore defensive back Calvin Swenson.
Up next Fresno State
6:30 p.m. Sept. 8, TCF Bank Stadium
TV: FS1; 100.3-FM
The skinny: Former California coach Jeff Tedford had a smashing debut with Fresno State in 2017, improving the Bulldogs from 1-11 the year before to 10-4 and a berth in the Mountain West Championship Game against Boise State. Fresno State lost 17-14 to the Broncos — after beating them 28-17 the week before — and went on to beat Houston 33-27 in the Hawaii Bowl. The Bulldogs open their season Saturday at home against Idaho.
The Bulldogs had the nation’s 10th-best scoring defense in 2017, surrendering 17.9 points per game, and they return seven starters on that unit. On offense, quarterback Marcus McMaryion went 9-2 as a starter and passed for 2,726 yards and 14 touchdowns after transferring from Oregon State during training camp.