Things started out exactly according to plan...for UNLV.
The Running Rebels took the opening kickoff then proceeded to march 75 yards, keeping the Gopher defense on the field for 5:12 over 13 plays. UNLV quarterback, Nick Sherry started out 8/8 passing with quick hitter after quick hitter putting our secondary and linebackers on their heals. Once the Gopher D was geared to slow down these quick slants, UNLV ran a draw up the middle for a 26 yard Tim Cornett touchdown.
Surely the Gopher offense would square things up with a big drive of their own, right?. They did manage to get a first down but the next play was a UNLV interception on an underthrown deep ball by Philip Nelson.
But things eventually turned around thanks to a myriad of big plays, mostly from the the defense and special teams in the 2nd half. There was a spark that started in the 2nd quarter. The Gophers trailed 3-7 scored on a quick 69 yard, 2 play drive. Philip Nelson hit Drew Goodger for a 21 yard gain and then took a QB read-option to the house sprinting 48 yards for the first Gopher touchdown of the year.
Another UNLV touchdown on 34-yard pass from Nick Sherry to Devante Davis gave them the lead again. It was at this point I was getting concerned that confidence was building on the UNLV sideline. But the Gophers ended the half with 10 play drive ending on a Nelson to Maxx Williams 10-yard touchdown. At the half the Gopher clung to a 13-16 lead.
It was at this point when things completely unraveled for UNLV.
Marcus Jones opened the half with a 98-yard return of the kickoff. Later in the quarter RaShede Hageman blocked a UNLV field goal attempt that was scooped up by Martez Shabaz for another special team's touchdown. And in the fourth quarter Briean Boddy-Calhoun jumped a route beautifully for a 89-yard interception return for a touchdown. Special teams and defense came up with some huge plays before the offense put the game away in the fourth quarter with a couple of touchdown drives of their own.
"They don't get much bigger than that (Coach Kill regarding Marcus Jone's kickoff return for a touchdown). We atlk about how important coverage teams are and our return teams are. It couldn't happen to a better person than what Marcus Jones has gone through. Two ACL injuries and it was well executed."
UNLV was able to move the ball racking up 419 yards of total offense, but it took a LOT of plays (85) and finished with a 4.9 per play average. Their first two offensive touchdowns were breakdowns on the defense but for the most part the Gopher D kept things in front of them and waited for their opportunities. A total of 9 pass breakups, 9 tackles for losses, 1 sack, 2 interceptions and a touchdown scored. Sometimes total yard stats can be a bit misleading. UNLV Coach Bobby Hauck summed this up well,
"When I looked up at the scoreboard going into their last drive and saw that we had 420 yards and they had 234, teh score on the board doesn't correlate with that so we have to delve into why that is.
Statistics are irrelevant - time of possession, yardage, first downs - all that stuff we did pretty well, but it doesn't matter when you don't win on the scoreboard."
The offense is harder to grade. Yes, they ran the ball well; particularly the quarterbacks executing the zone-read option. But the passing game needs some work. Philip Nelson was 10/22 with 99 yards, a touchdown and a pick. This needs to be better, but I'm not going to get too alarmed after just one game.
The stat that matters is points and the Gophers racked up 51, which is the highest point total scored by the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. The offense scored 4 touchdowns, the special teams had 2 and the defense had one too. It was a slow start but the end result was dominating win.