LAS VEGAS - That the Gophers defense forced seven punts, collected three turnovers and limited UNLV to 275 yards in a three-overtime game was impressive enough, coach Jerry Kill said.
But the Gophers did it, in effect, without a game plan.
They spent most of their practice time last week preparing for the Rebels offense that was documented on films of the 2011 UNLV season -- a pistol offense, with the quarterback in the shotgun, darting quick passes to an array of receivers.
You know, an offense that the Rebels don't use anymore.
"They looked nothing like that. That's completely different," Kill said of the traditional under-center, two-back look the Rebels used with redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Sherry, an offense that third-year UNLV coach Bobby Hauck employed when he coached at Montana against Kill's Southern Illinois team.
"I had a feeling that he'd go back to a little bit more of what he's done. But you just didn't know," Kill said after the Gophers' 30-27 victory. "So we had to make some adjustments on the fly and on the run, and our kids, with a young defense, did a great job. So that's what I feel pretty good about, because we worked against the pistol and the option and all that stuff for three weeks."
That's one reason, linebacker Keanon Cooper said, the Gophers gave up 134 yards in the first half and only 48 yards in UNLV's first six possessions of the second. "You could kind of tell when the game started, we were all over the place," Cooper said. "But we got adjustments made, and I feel like we did OK."
The victory was memorable enough for Cooper. But he believes the Gophers had help.
Gary Tinsley, Cooper's teammate and roommate who died of an enlarged heart on April 6 at age 22, "was looking upon us in this game," Cooper said. "He was here."
So was his old No. 51, worn on Cooper's back. The senior linebacker gave up his No. 4 in memory of Tinsley, an idea "that's been in the back of my head" since Tinsley's death.
"It was an honor. I thought about him every step of the way," Cooper said.
The team plans to rotate the jersey among some of his other teammates throughout the season.
"He was close to a lot of players on this team, so a lot of guys are going to have the opportunity," Cooper said.
Future openers at home
He has been athletic director for only two months, but Norwood Teague already intends to start a new Gophers tradition. In fact, it has started already.
The Gophers will kick off their football season on the Thursday before Labor Day "for years to come," Teague confirmed. "We have an agreement with the State Fair that we'll play on Thursday nights."
And unlike the opener at UNLV, Teague, at Kill's urging, intends to always open the season at home. That had presented a logistical problem with the fair, which uses TCF Bank Stadium lots for parking, but by committing to Thursday -- an agreement "for longer than five years," Teague said -- the fair can still use the lots for its heavy weekend traffic.
• It was the first road victory of Kill's Gophers career, and the third opener to require OT in the past six seasons.
• The 30 points were the most the Gophers have scored under Kill.
• The Gophers intercepted three passes, one short of their total for the entire 2011 season. They also had two sacks, one each by tackle Ra'Shede Hageman and end D.L. Wilhite.