After studying the Gophers’ 51-23 victory over UNLV on Thursday, Jerry Kill said that at least on special teams, he believed his team played as well as it had in any game since his arrival in the Twin Cities.
“Special teams — kickoff returns, punt returns, things of that nature, we probably played as well as we played in the last two years,” said the Gophers coach.
The special teams highlights included Marcus Jones’ 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Martez Shabazz returning a field goal blocked by Ra’Shede Hageman 51 yards for another score.
UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said at one time in Thursday’s game he looked up at the scoreboard and the Rebels had 420 yards and the Gophers 234. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that if it wasn’t for the Gophers’ two special teams touchdowns, “I think we win.”
As for the offense and defense, Kill said: “Defensively, we did some good things, but we gave up four or five big plays. If we don’t give those up we really feel good, but you can’t do that.
“Offensively, we feel that we can play better up front than we did. But it’s early, and you have to have film to teach from.”
The team held a practice Saturday, and Kill believed some of the errors players made in the victory were corrected.
“Positive things are we didn’t have many penalties, we had one turnover, there’s a lot of good things that came out of the game,” Kill said. “Athletically we ran very well. We have to keep improving. We had a lot of players that have never played or started in a [college] football game.”
As to Kill’s evaluation of quarterback Philip Nelson, he said: “Philip is going to continue to go through the growth process, and he did a lot of good things of reading the option and running option football and took advantage of what the defense gave him. He’ll continue to progress.”
Kill said the insertion of players such as wide receivers Donovahn Jones and Drew Wolitarsky will help the passing game.
“We had a pretty competitive practice at the receiving corps on Saturday,” he said. “The good news for us is most of our guys have three or four years left that are playing. I could see five or six or seven freshmen playing as we go through it. The talent base, I think our depth is improved.”
Kill pointed to the fact that Northern Illinois — his former team, coming off an Orange Bowl appearance — won at Iowa on Saturday and that it did so with its speed.
“We have to continue to get faster to compete at the level that we’re going to have to compete in,” he said.
On the injury front, Kill said he didn’t believe Berkley Edwards would be ready for Saturday’s game at New Mexico State, and that fellow running back Donnell Kirkwood will be questionable. Both players have injured ankles.
“The positive thing is he was walking around and not in a boot, but he’s pretty tender,” Kill said of Kirkwood.
Kill said he was happy with running backs David Cobb and Rodrick Williams, who did well when Kirkwood left.
It was the first victory in a home opener for the Gophers since 2008, and for that reason alone, nobody should complain about their performance.
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