Gophers scheming to use speedy Edwards

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 2:01 AM

The Gophers didn’t wait long Thursday night trying to get the ball to Berkley Edwards.

They won the coin toss, elected to receive and had Edwards split wide right on their second play. Quarterback Mitch Leidner threw Edwards a basic screen pass, and the ball slipped right through the redshirt freshman’s hands.

Asked later if there were opening-night nerves, Edwards said: “There was for me. I’m not sure about anybody else.”

But Edwards settled in and delivered two fourth-quarter touchdown runs, including a 42-yard scamper around the left edge. He finished with four carries for 60 yards and one reception for 2 yards in a 42-20 season-opening victory over Eastern Illinois.

“He’s lightning in a bottle,” coach Jerry Kill said. “He can flat run. I don’t know what else you can say. We’ve got to continue to find ways to get him the ball, and this is the first game he’s ever played.

“He could have gotten discouraged. He dropped a ball there early, but he came right back and we started feeding him the ball, and he did very well. We need that right now. We’ve got some good backs, but having someone who can get it over with early is a good thing for us.”

Wolitarsky sidelined

Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky missed the game because of an injury below his right shoulder that the team doesn’t consider serious.

The Gophers actually considered having Wolitarsky suit up but decided it against it Thursday as a precaution.

Wolitarsky finished third on the team in receiving yards last year with 259 as a true freshman.

Good kicking game

Peter Mortell averaged 51.2 yards on his five punts — none of them returned — and the Gophers’ new placekicker, Ryan Santoso, boomed five of his seven kickoffs for touchbacks.

Santoso was 6-for-6 on extra points. Kill had talked about using Santoso and another redshirt freshman kicker, Andrew Harte, but Santoso handled everything himself.

“Our punter did a heck of a job changing field positions,” Kill said. “And our kicker was pretty much unreal, kicking the ball out of the end zone every time. I felt good about that. The whole kicking game, I thought, was very solid.”

Another slow start

The Gophers finally scored first in an opener, but it came after another sluggish start. In each of Kill’s four season openers at Minnesota, the Gophers have struggled in the season’s opening moments.

Last season, the Gophers trailed UNLV 6-0 and again 13-10 in the first half before pulling away. In 2012, UNLV again led 3-0 and 10-7 before losing to the Gophers in three overtimes. In Kill’s first game with Minnesota in 2011, the Gophers trailed Southern Cal 6-0 early and 19-3 at halftime.

Cobb’s solid start

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  • Berkley Edwards dropped a screen pass on the game’s second play but bounced back for this 42-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. “He’s lightning in a bottle,” coach Jerry Kill said.

  • Gophers running back Rodrick Williams Jr. ran past — and over — Eastern Illinois’ Vince Speller.

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