The Gophers played their season opener Thursday without senior offensive lineman Josh Campion, who had started all 39 games the previous three seasons.
Campion, an honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection last year, suffered a concussion during training camp, but the team had hoped he’d be ready for the opener.
Ben Lauer, who had surgery on his left knee early in camp, was able to start at left tackle but struggled during the first quarter. Terrell Lathan sped past Lauer to sack Mitch Leidner and force a fumble at the Gophers 18-yard line, setting up the Horned Frogs’ first touchdown.
Two drives later, Lathan got by Lauer again, hurrying Leidner into an incomplete pass.
“Ben tried to play and couldn’t play,” coach Jerry Kill said. “When [Lathan] got the sack, [Lauer] did everything he could.”
If the entire offensive line was healthy, Campion would have been the starting right guard, and he was prepared to move to left tackle if Lauer hadn’t been ready to go.
Without Campion, the starting line went: Lauer (left tackle), Jon Christenson (left guard), Brian Bobek (center), Connor Mayes (right guard) and Jonah Pirsig (right tackle).
With Lauer struggling, the Gophers slid Pirsig to left tackle and inserted Foster Bush at right tackle in the second quarter.
Gophers try no-huddle
The Gophers took the opening kickoff, got a first down and then started running the no-huddle offense. They practiced it all spring, but at last week’s news conference, coach Jerry Kill insisted that was just to help the defense practice for TCU’s up-tempo offense.
“To be honest with you, we haven’t done near as much no-huddle as we did in the spring,” Kill said Saturday. “We experimented with it a little bit, and we’ve been a huddle team. That’s who we are.”
Back in the spring, the Gophers talked about how the no-huddle could be a change-of-pace to keep defenses off balance. That’s what this appeared to be.
Gophers try wildcat, too
On their second drive, the Gophers used another wrinkle, with Leidner lined up at wide receiver and Chris Streveler lined up in the wildcat formation. Streveler took the shotgun snap and rushed for 3 yards.
Streveler practiced at H-back, tight end and wide receiver, in addition to quarterback during training camp.
The announced attendance was 54,147, the largest in TCF Bank Stadium’s seven-season history.
The student section was mostly full 50 minutes before kickoff, and they were crammed in like sardines in those general admission seats.
“I think this is what your athletes, coaches and state wants to see from a home opener,” interim athletic director Beth Goetz said. “I’ve been around football a long time. The difference it makes for the student body and passion around it is so much fun.”
• Four true freshman saw action — linebacker Julian Huff, defensive backs KiAnte Hardin and Blake Cashman and wide receiver Rashad Still. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jeff Jones played a few snaps but wasn’t targeted.
• Wide receiver Isaiah Gentry was out because of a hamstring injury.
• The Gophers wore maroon helmets, maroon jerseys and gold pants after going 4-1 with that combination last season.
• The temperature at game time, 82 degrees, made it the third-warmest kickoff temperature in TCF Bank Stadium history. It was 92 degrees for the 2013 opener against UNLV and 88 degrees for the 2011 home opener against New Mexico State.