Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
MarQueis Gray vowed to fix his passing problems after a mediocre first week. Consider them fixed.
The Gophers' senior quarterback threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more on Saturday, leading Minnesota to its biggest victory in almost six years, 44-7 over New Hampshire before an announced opening day crowd of 47,022 at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers are 2-0 for the first time since 2009.
Gray threw only eight passes, but six of them were on target for an even 100 yards, including a 27-yard strike to Isaac Fruechte for the Gophers' first touchdown, and a 2-yard pitch to John Rabe for another.
And in between, Gray rolled up 109 yards on the ground -- 75 of them on a touchdown romp up the middle, the longest scoring play of his career. When he added an 11-yard keeper for another score in the second quarter, the Gophers were en route to their biggest blowout victory since a 63-26 drubbing of Indiana on Nov. 4, 2006.
The Wildcats handed Minnesota its first two points of the game, when punter Mike MacArthur fumbled a snap in the end zone. He quickly threw the ball out of the end zone for a safety.
The Gophers' defense was just as impressive as its offense, limiting the FCS-level Wildcats to just one scoring drive, an eight-play, 76-yard march in the second quarter that temporarily made the game competitive, 9-7. New Hampshire, which lost quarterback Sean Goldrich to an injury on its first drive, did little else on offense, collecting only 231 total yards, about half of the Gophers' 421.
Here's the Associated Press account of the game:
MINNEAPOLIS - This is how Big Ten teams are supposed to fare against FCS foes: take an early lead, dominate on both sides of the ball and bring the backups in at the end.
For Minnesota, even the easy victories are cause for celebration.
MarQueis Gray threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more by halftime, and the Gophers scored their most points in a game in five years by beating New Hampshire 44-7 on Saturday.
"A lot more comfortable. A lot more confident," said Gray, who passed only eight times but completed six for 100 yards and scores to Isaac Fruechte and John Rabe. Gray also gained 109 yards on 17 rushing attempts, including a 75-yard untouched burst through the middle of the line for a momentum-swinging, career-long touchdown at the end of the first quarter.
"He's 260 (pounds) solid, man, and moving like a freight train. I knew he was gone," said Donnell Kirkwood, who ran for 70 yards and a third-quarter score on 17 carries for the Golden Gophers (2-0), who had lost three of their last five games against FCS opponents.
Andy Vailas replaced Sean Goldrich at quarterback and was 18 for 34 for 158 yards and an interception for the Wildcats (1-1), who failed on all four of their fourth-down conversions. Goldrich separated his left shoulder at the end of a short run on their second play from scrimmage.
"It just wasn't what I expected, and I'm really disappointed," New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said.
New Hampshire beat Northwestern on the road in 2006 and won five straight games against FBS teams until losing at Pittsburgh in 2010. The Wildcats have been to the FCS playoffs eight straight years. But except for a long drive late in the first quarter capped by a touchdown run by Chris Setian, the Wildcats and their no-huddle offense were overwhelmed by the bigger, faster Gophers. New Hampshire finished with 68 yards rushing on 32 attempts, and Vailas was sacked four times in the first half.
"We certainly don't have all the bricks put together yet. It takes time, but I do think we're heading in the right direction," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said.
The Gophers lost to FCS national champion North Dakota State last year, South Dakota the season before and North Dakota State in 2007. Even their recent wins over FCS teams were ugly, by one point over North Dakota State in 2006 and by three points over South Dakota State in 2009. But the difference with the Wildcats is their roster isn't loaded with Minnesotans looking to upset the biggest school in the region.
"This week we kind of emphasized how we have a chip on our shoulder. The last two years we've lost to South Dakota and North Dakota State, so we can't take any team lightly," Rabe said.
Gray took three sacks and fumbled three times but recovered all of them. He was on target with his passes, most importantly, after misfiring on several potential touchdown throws in the opener at UNLV. The Gophers had to rally and win 30-27 in triple overtime, in part because of Gray's early inaccuracy.
"I felt like last week if I'd have made those throws, we wouldn't have went into overtime," Gray said.
Attendance has dropped since TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009, but the crowd of 47,022 — boosted by free tickets for freshmen — was into the game. Beer sales, allowed for the first time, didn't hurt.
"The students are great. We've got to continue to put a better product out there," Kill said.
New Hampshire punter Mike MacArthur let a slightly high snap slip through his hands and pingpong out of the end zone for an early safety. Then his horse-collar penalty while tackling Troy Stoudermire on the ensuing kickoff gave the Gophers the ball at the 27-yard line. Rabe, who had two touchdown catches in the first game, was wide open on a fade route that Gray threw perfectly for a 9-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Gray gave the Gophers a 30-7 lead when he scored from 11 yards out on the same option read play he faked a handoff on to start the 75-yarder. That's more points than they scored in any game last season. The final tally of 44 was their highest since a 49-48 loss to Northwestern in 2007, and that game went to double overtime. Their last total this big in regulation was 63 points against Indiana in 2006.
"The whole offense was calm. Everyone was on edge at UNLV. Everyone was nervous. We got that first game under our belt, and everyone kind of settled down," Rabe said.
Fruechte caught his first career touchdown pass from Gray, and so did A.J. Barker, in the fourth quarter from backup Max Shortell. Fruechte and Barker are part of a young, fast group of wide receivers the Gophers are counting on to help Gray improve on his sporadic performance as a first-time starter in 2011.
"He's a big boy. He's athletic, and they utilize his strengths," New Hampshire linebacker Alan Buzbee said. "We thought we could give them a fight and early on we did. We kind of let a couple big plays deflate us, but 44-7 is never good, even if it is a Big Ten team."
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