At halftime, the scoreboard said Minnesota led by three, but with San Jose State quarterback David Fales looking comfortable and sharp, the advantage felt less than calming for the Gophers.
A touchdown at the end of the second quarter seemed to give the Spartans the momentum, and considering Fales’ throwing ability, it looked as though San Jose State had not even hit its stride.
That the Gophers never let the Spartans get there was, in part, a testament to their linebackers, particularly strong-side linebacker Aaron Hill and weak-side counterpart De’Vondre Campbell, who was making his first start in maroon and gold.
On San Jose State’s first possession of the second half, Hill intercepted a pass from Fales, returning the ball 16 yards to start a drive that would end in a Gophers touchdown just three plays later. From there, the linebackers worked to help keep Fales off-balance for the remainder of the game, ultimately guiding a 43-24 Gophers win.
“I think that was definitely a momentum shifter for the game,” Hill said. “I think the coaches made a good adjustment at halftime — they told me to cheat to the boundary a little bit because that’s high percentage passing, and I did. And Jeremy Baltazar did a good job of tipping the ball.”
Hill also had four tackles, including one that came in a 4th-and-2 situation on the Spartans’ second possession of the game when they were deep in Gophers territory. Hill combined with Theiren Cockran to take down running back Jason Simpson and force a turnover on downs.
The dynamic 6-5 Campbell, meanwhile, was looking natural in his first start of the season — staying prepared just as he usually does — and leading the team with five solo tackles and six overall.
“He’s a good-looking athlete, isn’t he?” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said of Campbell, who had a career-high eight tackles at New Mexico State this season. “In the piece of the puzzle, you’ve got to get four or five difference-makers on each side of the ball, just like the NFL does, and I believe De’Vondre will develop into one of those guys.”
Kill found Campbell at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, where the promising athlete had ended up after hardly being recruited out of high school.
“He committed to Tennessee at one time, and then it was Texas and K-State [that were going after him], and we were fortunate he went to school about 35-40 minute from where I grew up and about two or three coaches on that staff had played for me at one time or another,” Kill said.