Everything was as it was supposed to be for the Gophers on Saturday. Maybe that's why it felt so different.
Jerry Kill was on the sidelines, MarQueis Gray was roaming the field at will, and Minnesota finally lived up to its whole-new-era promise on Saturday, holding off Miami (Ohio) for a 29-23 victory.
It's the first Minnesota victory of Kill's career, and comes after a week spent mostly in the hospital. It's the first victory as starting quarterback of Gray's career, and comes after two weeks of doubts about his ability to lead the offense.
Kill found the strength to stalk the sidelines and exhort his team. And Gray practically powered the Gopher offense by himself, shattering a 50-year-old school record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Gray rolled right, romped left, and gained 171 yards on the ground, surpassing Sandy Stephens' 160-yard game against Michigan in 1961.
But for all the offense the Gophers showed -- 399 yards worth overall, nearly even with the 405 yards Miami managed -- it was a special teams play that earned Minnesota its first victory. With a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the game and the Gophers clinging to a 23-16 lead, Duane Bennett smothered a Zac Murphy punt, knocking it high into the air deep in Miami territory. James Manual tried to grab the ball inside the 5, but fumbled it into Bennett's arms, and the tailback took two steps into the end zone for a touchdown.
It turned out to be a much-needed score, because Miami rallied with an 80-yard touchdown on its next possession. After forcing the Gophers to turn the ball over on downs, the RedHawks embarked on one final drive, and got to the 20-yard line with seven seconds left in the game. RedHawks quarterback Zac Dysert, who racked up 325 yards through the air, fired the ball into the end zone, but safety Kim Royston arrived at the same time as the ball, and knocked the ball away from wide receiver Chris Givens to preserve Kill's first victory.