Quick hits from Gophers' grinding, but convincing win at New Mexico St
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For those who didn't make the long trek to Las Cruces N.M., watching the telecast of the Minnesota Gophers' Week 2 face-off with New Mexico State on Saturday night felt more like a slightly glossed up high school game broadcast found on public access.
But if you got past the erratic screen cuts and the cameraman's continued bewilderment by play action the Gophers were seen grinding to a 44-21 victory against the Aggies, leaving the desert with a 2-0 start to the year in tow.
Like their season-opening 51-23 defeat of UNLV last week, it wasn't always pretty. But Minnesota found ways to take control of New Mexico State, boosted by 331 rushing yards -- its first 300-yard rushing game six years -- and another big play dominated night by the "U defense and special teams units.
The Gophers traveled to Las Cruces with a need to prove they could convincingly handle themselves against a sub-par opponent, despite a less than ideal road trip in the second week of the season.
Consider that test passed without much trouble
• With their 44-point outburst, the Gophers have scored 40 points or more in back-to-back games for the first time since 2005.
• The Gophers' offense got off to another sluggish start, settling for just two field goals in their first four drives. But they stuck to their run-heavy offensive plan, even with starting tailback Donnell Kirkwood not making the trip due to an ankle injury, and it eventually paid dividends.
New Mexico State's defensive line couldn't hold up against the almost constant push from the "U" front line. By the end of the night, sophomore running back Rodrick Williams and starting quarterback Philip Nelson had career-high rushing marks, both passing the century mark with 148 and 122 yards respectively.
• A low-key first half gave way to a second quarter in which the Gophers posted three touchdowns in a nine-minute span. The rout was on before halftime had arrived.
• There was no slow start this time for the Gophers' defense. New Mexico State managed only 27 yards its first four drive. The defense ultimately surrendered 357 yards to the Aggies, but a large chunk of those yards came with the game already in hand.
• Junior middle linebacker Damien Wilson, a prized junior college transfer, made his presence known, racing in on a blitz for an impressive first half sack of Aggies quarterback Andrew McDonald -- the first of a pair of sacks by the Gophers.
• The Gophers went to the air only 15 times, with Nelson completing eight of his passes for 127 yards. He did have an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter, but was bailed out by a strong defensive redzone stand.
• Last week, kicker Chris Hawthorne missed an extra point and a 50-yard attempt. But he rebounded Saturday by going a perfect 3-for-3 (45, 22 and 27 yards).
• Senior linebacker Aaron Hill tallied the Gophers' final touchdown by taking back a fourth quarter Aggies fumble 50 yards into the endzone. It was Hill's second career defensive touchdown return, as well as Minnesota's second defensive touchdown of the season.
Junior CB Marcus Jones
• Jones has quickly become one of the Gophers' best individual storylines this season. Back after having his first two seasons cut short by ACL injuries, Jones has been stunning on special teams.
Following up his blazing 98-yard kickoff return against UNLV, Jones did it again Saturday by hauling back a New Mexico State punt 65 yards for a touchdown late in the first half.
Sophomore RB Rodrick Williams Jr.
• With Kirkwood out, the Gophers required someone from their running backs unit to fill the void. Williams was more than willing to oblige. Williams rumbled to 148 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries - 113 of those yards came in the second and third quarters.
5: Defensive and special teams touchdowns recorded by the Gophers in a two-game stretch.
8: Number of yards Minnesota averaged per rush off a total of 43 attempts.
4: Penalties committed by the Gophers (37 yards). They had only one last week against UNLV.
• The "U" secondary suffered an early blow when junior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun went down on the second play of the game with a right knee injury, which ended his night. He was seen later on the sideline with his knee encased in a brace.