Kirkwood shows he is capable of carrying the load

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2012 - 1:13 AM
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Minnesota won 44-7. Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray (5) handed off to running back Donnell Kirkwood (20).

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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He grew up in Cheney, Kan., almost dead center between Norman and Lincoln, so Jerry Kill's brand of football is informed by decades of Oklahoma-Nebraska slugfests.

"We want to be able to run the ball. I'm not going to apologize for that. We want to be a running football team, and a play-action-pass football team," Kill said after the Gophers followed that prescription to a 2-0 start. "We don't want to be in third-and-long all the time. We want to be able to punt the ball good, be good in the kicking game, and play great defense."

The Gophers managed all of the above Saturday, routing New Hampshire 44-7. And while nobody is claiming that Donnell Kirkwood is the second coming of Billy Sims or Mike Rozier, the sophomore tailback has helped Kill enact that run-first game plan. Kirkwood carried the ball 17 times on Saturday, bounced off enough defenders to pick up 70 yards, and late in the third quarter, scored his first touchdown of the season, a 2-yard hop into the end zone.

"It has been a long time," the sophomore from Delray Beach, Fla., said of his first touchdown since last Sept. 24 against North Dakota State. "It felt really good. The line did what they had to do -- just blew them off the ball, moved everyone out of the way."

That's what Kirkwood appears to be doing to the depth chart, too. Kirkwood, whose bowling-ball style allows him to pick up extra yards after being hit, has carried the ball 30 times through two games, 11 more than any other tailback, and his 151 rushing yards trail only quarterback MarQueis Gray's 177.

So welcome to the first team, right, Donnell?

"I don't look at it like that. I know at any time I can come out and James [Gillum] can get 10 carries, or K.J. [Maye] can get us some yards," Kirkwood said. "We don't have a No. 1 guy, we have a team of guys who can help us win."

The Gophers are averaging 225 yards rushing this year through two games after averaging just 162 per game last year.

A look at Shortell

The Gophers' big lead allowed Max Shortell to quarterback much of the fourth quarter, and he was as effective as Gray. Shortell's first possession of the season produced a 14-play, 86-yard march, a drive that included four completions in five passes, two third-down conversions and a pretty 19-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Barker.

"Max has been waiting on that, I think, just to build his confidence up," Kirkwood said. "And it helps our confidence to know we can have another quarterback who can come in and do the same thing that MarQueis was doing."

Etc.

• The Gophers took a 2-0 lead in the first quarter when New Hampshire punter Mike MacArthur bobbled the snap near the end zone. Kick returner Troy Stoudermire took the ensuing free kick 48 yards, and he finished the day with 74 yards on kick returns, pulling him within 341 yards of the NCAA kick-return yardage record of just 3,517, held by Tyron Carrier of Houston.

• Freshman receiver Andre McDonald could have played but was held out as a precaution, Kill said, after missing two practices last week because of an infection in his leg. Linebacker Aaron Hill went to the locker room because of severe cramps, but he is OK.

• Dish Network and BTN reached a verbal agreement on a contract just before kickoff, enabling those with the satellite service to watch the game.

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