If I had been guaranteed that the Gophers were going to beat UNLV by 28 points on Thursday night, I would have guessed that Donnell Kirkwood and the other backs would have run wild.
It was quite the opposite. The Gophers beat UNLV, 51-23, in the season opener because of big plays. They scored thusly: Three touchdowns on quarterback runs, one kickoff return, one return of a blocked field goal, one touchdown pass, an interception return and a field goal.
What they lacked in line-of-scrimmage domination, they made up for with versatility.
No Gopher rusher other than quarterback Philip Nelson amnaged more than David Cobb's 69 yards, and Kirkwood rushed for just 30 before leaving with an ankle injury.
No Gopher receiver managed more than K.J. Maye's three catches and 30 yards.
The Gophers won because of big and often wild plays. Nelson rushed for 83 yards and two scores and threw for 99 yards and another, but this game wasn't won in the trenches.
UNLV seemed to baffle the Gophers early with the shortest passing game I think I've ever seen. UNLV could have been a dangerous opponent if any of their receivers were capable of getting downfield separation or breaking tackles.
Here's what stood out to me:
-Marcus Jones is a dyanamic player and a great interview. Please read my piece on him in the Friday Star Tribune.
-Freshman tight end Maxx Williams looks like a player. He has size, good hands and a lot of aggression. He made a beautiful catch of Nelson's touchdown pass near the sideline of the end zone, and when he took a short kickoff late in the game he ran over two defenders.
-The heat affected the Gophers. Jones and other players mentioned having cramps. The Gophers' return touchdowns forced the defense to stay on the field, and fatigue became a factor.
-Cole Banham, who got two carries late in the game, is the brother of Gophers basketball star Rachel Banham.
-Nelson produced three touchdowns. He also threw one interception and almost had another picked off and returned for a touchdown. It will be interesting to see how he handles stouter defenses and better pass rushes. He may need Williams to develop quickly to give him a Kyle Rudolph-like outlet.
-Jerry Kill seemed happy with the performance, and spoke highly about a lot of his young players.
-Here's my Nitpick of the Night:
Late in the first half, the Gophers had a first down at the UNLV 10 as the clock ticked under 40 seconds. The Gophers had one timeout remaining. They lined up, as UNLV's defense looked out of whack, and...spiked the ball?
This is one of my many pet peeves about football coaching and thinking. If you have time to line up, and you have the defense at a disadvantage, and there is plenty of time on the clock, downs are more valuable than a few seconds. Call a play and run it.
It didn't hurt the Gophers. They scored on a third-down pass from Nelson to Williams. But if Williams had come down out of bounds, it would have cost them at least four points.
-I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon tomorrow with Judd&Dubay. Sunday, on that station, we'll have the Gardenhire Show at 9:30, then we'll run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon with me and Scott Korzenowski, with special guest Tom Linnemann for our NFL picks. I think Korzo The Lawyer and me are going to end up agreeing on the winner of the NFL's settlement with former players.