Our beloved MN Golden Gophers are back in the Twin Cities after knocking off the UNLV Running Rebels 30-27 in a three overtime nailbiter Thursday night in Sin City. Here's a a quick, in-depth recap of the good and bad from the maroon and gold in the season opener.
1. The play of the wide receivers- The U's young wideouts looked good all game. They routinely got wide open, made plays after the catch, and caught everything catchable thrown their way. I was really pleased with the emergence of A.J. Barker, who really seemed lost in the shuffle with all the attention Andre McDonaldl, Devin Crawford-Tufts, Marcus Jones, and Jamel Harbison had been receiving. I also think K.J Maye is going to be a stud for the Gophers. Quick and shifty, I can see why Kill did not want to redshirt the Alabama recruit.
2. Well-Designed, Coach- I will rarely say this, but I thought the playcalling was excellent all night from both the OC Matt Limegrover and DC Tracy Claeys. Limegrover put Marqueis Gray in plenty of good passing situations all night, but Gray's accuracy was all over the place so the O didn't score as much as they should've. The wheel route to John Rabe in double OT was beautiful. On D, Claeys dialed up a lot of nice run blitzes off the corner and made UNLV freshman QB Nick Sherry uncomfortable all night with constant heat.
3. Gray Steps Up In OT- Though Gray struggled all game with his throws, he was money in OT and led the Gophers in the extra sessions to victory. On a team with so few seniors, it was big that the senior QB was calm in a nerve-wracking situation. I'm disappointed Gray didn't play much better in regulation, but I think we won't see him play this bad the rest of the year.
4. D Locks Down, Safeties Shine- The front kept getting pressure on the QB all night, finishing with two sacks. The D really only gave up three points in regulation (Stoudermire fumble led to TD, Gray pick put UNLV in Gopher territory to start the drive). Derrick Wells was the D MVP of the night with two huge picks, including the big one in the 3rd OT. He also made a huge open field tackle at the 5 yard line in double OT to prevent the Rebels from scoring a TD. Brock Vereen also finished with a pick. Wells and Vereen's play was real encouraging for a couple of guys making their first starts at safety (Vereen started all 12 games at CB last year).
1. Gray Off Target- #5 missed Rabe for an easy TD on the opening drive and then threw a pick into coverage right after that. MG5 proceeded to miss multiple wide open receivers deep and even missed a wide open Marcus Jones, who was five yards in front of Gray when he sailed the ball three feet over Jones' head. This was not the start many wanted to see out of Gray out of the gate, but I'm confident he will play much better in the home opener against New Hampshire.
2. Another Senior Star Struggles- Troy Stoudermire had a rough game as well. Arguably the best D player, Troy fumbled a punt in the third quarter that led to UNLV's only regulation TD. He then took a pass interference penalty on the next play and earlier in the game, was outwrestled for a jump ball by a UNLV wideout. Like Gray, I'm not concerned about Stoudermire rebounding from a bad performance. One game doesn't make a season and even with Gray and Stoudermire not playing well, the U still won.
3. Bad Penalties, Mental Mistakes- Several false starts on third and short situations killed drives and that can't happen. The Gophs also got a late hit penalty in OT, which prolonged a Rebel drive that led to a TD. Better teams will make the maroon and gold pay for these mental mistakes in the Big Ten so I hope Kill gets this cleaned up. Also, what was Lamonte Edwards thinking getting near the live ball on that punt? That was almost a huge mistake.
4. Gripe with the Stripes- I'm not gonna blame the officials for the game being so close because the Gophers were constantly hurting themselves with gaffe after gaffe, but how was that punt at the end of the game not a safety? The ball went right through ther returner's hands and they call touchback. That call could've came back to cost the U the game.
Next on the docket: New Hampshire (38-17 winners over Holy Cross Thursday), 11am, TCF Bank Stadium