The Gophers weathered the heat, a slow start and the UNLV Rebels in their season opening 51 -23 win at TCF Bank Stadium.
In a first half that saw the Gophers fall behind on a 13 play 75 yard drive capped by a Tim Cornett 26 yard touchdown run, Jerry Kill's team battled back and took a 16-13 lead at half on a Maxx Williams 10 yard touchdown reception from Philip Nelson. Nelson, led the Gophers ground attack finishing with 83 yards including a 48 yard run that opened the Gopher scoring.
The second half was all about defense and special teams. Marcus Jones returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to give Minnesota a 23-13 lead and sending the 44,000 plus at the Bank into a state of euphoria. The defense allowed the Rebels to rack up the yardage, but were opportunistic and took advantage of miscues. Martez Shabazz blocked a Chris Hawthorne field goal attempt and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 30-13.
"They don't get much bigger than that," said head coach Jerry Kill. "We talk about how important our coverage teams are and our return teams are. It couldn't happen to a better person than what Marcus Jones has been through."
Jones has returned after two ACL injuries and a couple of position changes. All of which his head coach calls the ultimate team sacrafice.
"We've been talking about being good teammates and not being selfish and not worrying about how much you play and he has never complained one time," said Kill. "He is sitting there running three corner and so forth and all of a sudden he's playing and making a difference in the game. That is what football is all about."
The fourth quarter saw more of the same. After the Rebels drove the length of the field and appeared primed to score, Briean Boddy-Calhoun jumped a quick hitter and intercepted UNLV quarterback Tim Cornett returning it 89 yards for a touchdown.
Nelson finished the game 10 for 22 with 99 yards and a touchdown. It was his work on the ground that proved to be the difference as he added a five yard score late in the fourth quarter that pushed the score to 44-16.
After a fourth quarter UNLV touchdown, the Gophers marched down field scoring for the final time on a Mitch Leidner 4-yard run to cap the scoring.
The 51 points scored by Minnesota is the most ever in the short history of TCF Bank.
UNLV out gained the Gophers in total offense 420-320.
The Gophers hit the road for their second non-conference game against New Mexico State next Saturday night.