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Young Gophers overcome early mistakes, pull away from New Mexico State 48-10

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After an ugly first quarter - special teams, a Nekton Defense and a QB gaining confidence led to a blowout

NCAA Football: New Mexico State at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Gopher fan angst is a common phenomenon, particularly early in the season. Minnesota opened their 2018 season against New Mexico State with dropped passes, penalties, a fumbled snap, back to back three and outs and saw themselves down 7-10 early in the second quarter. The angst was real.

The Gopher defense got things going early for Minnesota. A Thomas Barber interception at the 50 yard line set up the games initial touchdown. Rodney Smith did most of the work getting the offense down to the 7-yard line when Zack Annexstad hit Tyler Johnson for the game’s opening score.

But later in the quarter it was Annexstad’s mishandled snap that gave the ball to the Aggies on the Minnesota 12. Two play later they tied the game up with a Matt Romero to Izaiah Lottie touchdown.

A Gopher offense 3-and-out followed by an Aggie 47-yard drive resulting in a FG gave New Mexico State a 10-7 lead. And the angst was very real.

But things turned around, they turned around very quickly.

The next drive was surgical as this was the point when Annexstad really seemed to settle into the game. At this point in the game the freshman was 4/9 passing with 30 yards with three balls being tipped at the line. But this is the point when things clicked. On 2nd down he throws a great pass to Rashod Bateman for 25 yards. This opened up runs of 12 and 8 yards for Smith then another great pass to Chris Autman-Bell for 8 yards and another Smith run of 13. At this point the staff brought in Seth Green to finish things off.

Yes, that was not a typo.

With the score 10-14, New Mexico State put on an 11-play drive that was stopped on a 4th and 1 by the Gopher defense. Then again it was Annexstad making really nice completions that opened up the running game. Another drive of 2/2 passing, 48 yards, Rodney Smith rushes for 28 yards and then Seth Green finishes things off. Again...not a typo.

Under 3:30 min left in the half, NMSU with the ball, Minnesota contently up 21-10 and things were looking good heading into the half. But we weren’t done. A 3-and-out for the Aggies, then this.

Antoine Winfield houses a 75-yard punt, looking like Marcus Sherels in his Viking’s prime. 28-10 and the angst was gone (right?).

Another 3-and-out forced by the Nekton Defense and Minnesota’s now dangerous offense had the ball with 2:11 remaining all the way back on our own 16-yard line. Annexstad to Johnson for 18, Rodney with rushes of 20 & 13 then Annexstad with a short pass to Johnson that he takes 33 yards for a touchdown.

Now heading into half-time 35-10 and the angst was really gone.

You tell me what was most impressive in the 2nd quarter...

  • Annexstad going 6/7 for 132 yards and a touchdown
  • Smith rushing for 94 yards in the quarter
  • Or the entire offense putting up 243 yards and 28 points in the quarter

It is impressive when this offense can get some balance.

The second half was not nearly as explosive as second quarter.

The third quarter saw Minnesota’s drives stall, resulting in a couple of Emmit Carpenter field goals. The defense held New Mexico State to just 47 yards and it was 41-10 heading into the final quarter.

The fourth quarter was more about getting certain young guys opportunities to gain experience. Tanner Morgan, Thomas Rush Mohamad Ibrahim and Bryce Williams were all on display. And Minnesota cruised to a 48-10.

So what did we learn?

Well the biggest questions really were surrounding the team’s newly minted starting quarterback. Annexstad was unimpressive early but once he got comfortable he looked much better. Still made mistakes, overall finished with a completion percentage under 50% but he threw no picks and for his first game I think this was a success.

It is really nice to have multiple receivers who can make plays. Bateman looks fantastic, Johnson is obviously very good and Autman-Bell is going to be very good as well. This makes a huge difference for your quarterback.

Quietly, Terell Smith has a really nice game. The true-freshman corner led the team in tackles and had 3 pass breakups. But really so many young guys played well tonight, living up to some of the hype.

There are concerns to be had. There were plenty of mistakes made that need to be cleaned up. But all in all there is no complaining about a 38-point win in your opener.

The Gophers put up 524 yards of offense, scored nearly 50 points while holding their opponent to one touchdown, which came following a fumble giving them the ball with just 12 yards to go.

Good win to start the season. More than enough to build confidence while leaving plenty on film to improve upon.