With the forecast calling for temperatures near 90 degrees for Thursday night’s season opener against UNLV, and with the Rebels expected to use a hurry-up offense, the Gophers know their defense will get an immediate test.
“Depth will be important; I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” coach Jerry Kill said Saturday. “What did Vince Lombardi say? ‘Fatigue makes cowards out of all of us.’ We’ve worked hard at [building depth] on defense.”
UNLV has lost 22 consecutive road games, dating to Oct. 24, 2009. Coach Bobby Hauck is back for a fourth season, but he replaced both coordinators after the Rebels finished 2-11 last year. The new offensive coordinator, Timm Rosenbach, ran a high-octane offense at Montana, and the new defensive coordinator is Tim Hauck, the head coach’s brother.
In last year’s season opener at UNLV, the Rebels pushed Minnesota to triple overtime before the Gophers prevailed 30-27 on Jordan Wettstein’s field goal. This time, the Gophers are listed as 14-point favorites.
“They’ve got pretty much all their personnel back, so they’ll be a better football team than they were a year ago, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Kill said of UNLV. “And we should be a better team than we were a year ago.”
This will be the Gophers’ fifth season at TCF Bank Stadium and their first season opener in their new home. Their past four openers have come at Syracuse, at Middle Tennessee State, at Southern California and at UNLV.
The last time the Gophers opened a season at home was 2008, when Tim Brewster’s squad defeated Northern Illinois 31-27 at the Metrodome. Coincidentally, that was Northern Illinois’ first season under Kill.
“If I had my choice, we’d play eight home games every year,” said Kill, whose team has seven home games again this season. “It’s important for your fans, it’s important for your players to get the extra day to get your feet on the ground.”
Kill wasn’t ready Saturday to name his starting punter or kicker, though he did say senior placekicker Chris Hawthorne has had a good camp and mentioned freshman Andrew Harte as one of the team’s surprises. Freshman Ryan Santoso remains a candidate to kick and punt.
At left offensive tackle, senior Ed Olson is back from ankle surgery, but it sounds as if the Gophers will stick with junior Marek Lenkiewicz.
“We have to be careful in Ed’s situation,” Kill said. “He didn’t go through spring ball. He’s coming off major surgery, where Lenkiewicz and those guys have been playing. Right now, [Olson’s] pushing awful hard, and he’s a tremendous young man, but it takes time to get the feel of the game back.”
Kill also declined to name a starting middle linebacker, emphasizing that Damien Wilson and Jack Lynn both will play.
• Kill said junior cornerback Derrick Wells still is questionable for the opener. Wells’ bruised shoulder is better, but he’s also dealing with hamstring tightness.
• This Aug. 29 season opener will be the earliest in Gophers history. They’ve opened on Aug. 30 five times, including last season.