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Updated: August 30th, 2013 2:55am
Quick hits from Gophers' big play driven rout of UNLV in season opener

Quick hits from Gophers' big play driven rout of UNLV in season opener

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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Notes from the Minnesota Gophers' season-opening 51-23 victory against UNLV

Jones' second comeback gets a grand opening

• After a struggle-filled start and holding only a 16-13 halftime lead, the Gophers were desperate for some sort of jumpstart.

Cornerback Marcus Jones, close to eight months removed from his second ACL surgery in two years, provided that spark.

Entering fall camp, it was questionable how Jones, who was shifted from receiver to cornerback in part to avoid injury, would fit back in, if at all, after yet another injury. But Jones gained the trust of coaching staff to give him back his spot on the return team.

Jones backed up that faith in a big way by bringing back UNLV's opening second half kickoff 98 yards for the Gophers' first touchdown off a kick return in two years.

It was a moment Jones had trouble finding the words to put it in perspective.

"It was kind of unexplainable, because it felt so great at the time," Jones said. "It reflects the medical staff, the weight lifting staff, my teammates, the encouragement they gave me through my rehab process both times. They kept pushing me, so I kept pushing myself."

Maxx Williams emerges

• Sluggish and lacking rhythm early, the Gophers were on the verge of heading into halftime trailing. Redshirt freshman tight end Maxx Williams ensured the Gophers avoided that fate when he made an impressive touchdown catch -- his first career reception and touchdown - with 18 seconds left in the second quarter.

"He's a huge weapon. I think we learned that in fall camp and even spring ball," quarterback Philip Nelson said. "I played against him in high school and that kid makes plays ... He's a great big target. He played exactly how I expected him to."

• When defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman reached up and blocked UNLV's 37-yard field goal attempt shortly after Jones' kick return, senior cornerback Martez Shabazz was waiting for the chance that the ball would pop out of the pile.

He got his wish as he finally managed to pick up the ball as it bounced up the field and pull off a key 51-yard touchdown return.

"It was a bounce-back play, because I gave up a big touchdown in the first half," Shabazz said. "Everybody was just telling me to keep my head up and in the game. I knew I was the scoop guy and the ball got blocked. I was hoping somebody would knock it out, and I was just waiting for the ball to bounce. It was like a dream, actually."

Boddy-Calhoun makes an impact

• The shoulder and hamstring problems that had hindered junior cornerback Derrick Wells throughout fall camp indeed ended up keeping him from suiting up for the game.

But junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun filled Wells' sport with highly positive results.

Boddy picked off a pass from UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry and hustle 89-yards downfield for a touchdown the cemented the Gophers' full takeover of the game. Coach Jerry Kill joked that he thought Boddy was running out of steam as he neared the endzone.

With a grin, Boddy begrudgingly admitted that he was right.

"I was a little gassed, but I looked to my left and saw the quarterback kicking, so I was thinking I'm going to have to bust a move, because I'm not going to outrun him," Boddy said. "I was a little gassed, I'm not going to lie."

Kirkwood goes down

• Starting tailback Donnell Kirkwood had to be helped off the field in the third quarter after injuring his right ankle on a run. He later came back to the sidelines with a walking boot over his the injured ankle.

Sophomore Rodrick Williams Jr., who surprisingly didn't touch the ball until the second half, took over Kirkwood's spot.

The severity of Kirkwood's injury is not known yet, but the "U" running back situation has quickly become an area of concern. Freshman Berkley Edwards is already out with what is being labeled as a high ankle sprain and is already questionable for the Gophers' Week 2 match-up against New Mexico State.

Losing Kirkwood, regardless of the duration of his absence, would be significant blow to the Gophers' run-based attack this early in the season.

Nelson on the run

• By halftime, Nelson had 66 of the Gophers' 108 first half rushing yards, including a 48-yard scramble he turned into their first touchdown of the game. It was slightly unexpected to see Nelson shouldered 12 rushing attempts for 83 yards, and it even surprised the sophomore quarterback a bit as well.

"To be honest, not really," Nelsons said when asked if he originally thought he would run as much as he did. "We did a lot of film study on their D-ends and we like that read option. We knew their ends were going to try to pinch and play in between. We had good play calls there, we had an H-back pull and make a great block. It was off to the races after that."

Pouring on the heat

• With the Twin Cities gripped by a record-breaking heat wave, it was undoubtedly steamy at field level. A slight breeze helped, but game time temperature still registered at 92 degrees.

Mix that in with UNLV's fast-paced, no-huddle offense and it resulted in slow adjustment early for the "U" defense, which allowed the Rebels to strike first with a 13 play, 75-yard opening touchdown drive.

"That quick tempo offense they were running, I'm not going to lie, that tired me out," Hageman admitted.

Notes

• Kill didn't unveil his choice until the last-minute, but he ended up giving redshirt sophomore Peter Mortell the start at punter. Mortell was adequate in his debut at the position, booting three punts for a 38.3-yard average.

• Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jamel Harbison was held out of Thursday's game for what Kill eluded to being due to disciplinary reasons.

"I think you know my background, a kid's got to be on time. It's a team policy. Maybe I'm one of the few people who stick to it, but we're going to do things the right way," Kill said. "Jamel handled himself well tonight and we'll continue to go through that. Part of winning is accountability ... Jamel will be fine."

• UNLV's loss extended their road losing streak - the second-longest in the nation - to 23 games.

• The Gophers' 51 points were the most scored in TCF Bank Stadium history and the most of the Kill era.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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