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Minnesota Football: Gophers Start Slow But Come From Behind to Beat Western Illinois 12-29

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The end result was a win for the Gophers but that might be the 4th or 5th lead story of the game.  Let's play spin the wheel of Gopher storylines.

  • Jerry Kill suffers another in-game seizure leaving the field at half-time on a stretcher.
  • Philip Nelson suffers a 2nd quarter hamstring injury putting redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner under center.
  • Gophers with another slow start trailing Western Illinois TWICE before pulling away in the 2nd half.
  • The Gopher rushing attack surpassed the 200 yard mark for the 4th consecutive game.
  • Gophers start the season 3-0.

The win was expected, the margin of victory should have been more but the real story of this game is the third seizure suffered on gameday by Jerry Kill.  Still on the field but as the team was heading to the locker room, Kill had another episode and was carted off the field on a stretcher.

Considering this has happened on more than one occasion there is a plan in place for the staff and team.  Defensive Coordinator Tracy Claeys becomes the acting head coach, but since he sits in the booth coach Jay Sawvel acts as the on-the-field coach.  Plan was in place and the Gophers managed to execute much better in the 2nd half on their way to a win.   Stay tuned for updates on Kill's condition.

Moving on to the game, it was a 2nd half domination after and uninspired and ugly first half by the Gophers.  At the half the Gophers led just 7-6 and yardage was essentially even for both teams with 109 total yards for the Leathernecks to 112 for the Gophers.   The second half didn't start out much better.  Western scored on their second possession that was set up by a 65-yard pass from Trenton Norvell to Kyle Hammonds.  A missed PAT and the Leathernecks led 12-7 with 9:34 left in the 3rd quarter.

But that was it for Western and the Gophers finally controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.  In the second half the Gophers rushed for 153 rushing yards and held the Leathernecks to just 6.  David Cobb had 80 of his 82 yards and both touchdowns in the 2nd half.  Rodrick Williams finished with 56 yards and also had 2 touchdowns.  And Mitch Leidner finished with 64 yards on the ground giving the Gophers over 200 yards rushing for the 4th consecutive game.

Leidner was forced into action when Philip Nelson injured his hamstring in the 2nd quarter.  The Lakeville, redshirt freshman came in and did a nice job on the ground and through the air finishing 7/8 passing with 105 yards.  Don't start thinking about a quarterback controversy yet, but Leidner did his job being prepared when his number was called.

Defensively I think your three defensive standouts were Ra'Shede Hageman who was in the Western backfield often, Aaron Hill and Theiran Cockran who finished with 3 TFLs and 2 sacks.  The defense had 7 TFLs and the secondary had 6 pass breakups.

In the end the Gophers overcame the loss of their head coach and starting quarterback to get their third win of the season.  Yes, it was a weak FCS opponent and this win should not have been in doubt into the third quarter.  But it was a win and we move ahead to San Jose State.

In my opinion this was a game without much emotion and a rather vanilla gameplan.  This team is getting better at executing our stuff and establishing an identity.  Things start to get more interesting in the coming weeks when opponents get better and gameplans have to be a bit more complex.  I'll take 3-0 but there is still plenty of work to do.