MarQueis Gray scrambled across TCF Bank Stadium field Saturday and gave the Jerry Kill era a needed first win after stumbling out of the gates with two losses.
The Gophers 29-23 victory over Miami of Ohio was Gray’s first as the starting quarterback and he ran for a school-record 171 yards.
Kill coached from the sidelines after spending five days in the hospital following last week’s seizure. Gray finished a game healthy for the first time this season and thrived when he could tuck and run the ball in broken play situations.
Both teams dealt with strong winds throughout the game, as the contest often slowed to a battle of field position, with the punters playing a pivotal role.
A key special teams play, in which running back Duane Bennett blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown, turned out to be the difference.
Though the Gophers played better than a week ago in all facets of the game, it took a Kim Royston pass deflection in the red zone on the final play to seal a victory.
Minnesota won the opening coin toss and elected to defer to establish its defensive presence.
The Gophers’ defensive scheme was more complex than the previous two games, where defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys brought in numerous blitz packages.
Miami was able to exploit an early blitz for a 66-yard pass from quarterback Zac Dysert to Nick Harwell, but the Gophers’ defense held up on the drive after that and limited the RedHawks to a field goal. That defensive stop was a precursor for the afternoon’s performance.
On the ensuing possession, Gray quickly hit sophomore Malcolm Moulton for a 59-yard pass that set up a Chris Hawthorne field goal to tie the game. The 33-yard field goal was the longest of Hawthorne’s career.
Minnesota’s defense then held Miami to two straight three-and-out drives and limited the RedHawks to two yards rushing.
On the Gophers’ next drive, they marched down the field and established themselves on short yardage when Donnell Kirkwood ran for his first touchdown of the year.
Minnesota had struggled to that point in the season controlling the line of scrimmage and picking up short yardage.
“Kirkwood ran the ball hard today and we need more of that.” Kill said.
Indeed, Kirkwood had more success against the RedHawks than other backs in previous weeks and the ground attack led by Gray allowed the Gophers to dominate the time of possession 35 minutes to 25 minutes.
Gray broke the single-game rushing record for a Minnesota quarterback on 25 carries. The previous record (160 yards) was held by Rose Bowl MVP Sandy Stephens in 1961.
Another quick stop from the Gophers’ defense that included a sack for freshman Michael Amaefula — the team’s first sack of the year.
Minnesota began its next drive with a play-action pass to Eric Lair on a crossing pattern for 43 yards down to the Miami 16-yard line. The Gophers’ offense was stifled at the two-yard line and settled for a 19-yard field goal from Hawthorne to take a 13-3 lead.
The RedHawks capped a later drive with an Erik Finklea 1-yard rushing touchdown with 19 seconds remaining in the half to pull within three, 13-10.
Dysert later connected for a 7-yard touchdown. Miami failed to convert the extra point and tied the game 16-16.
The Gophers drove down the field on the strength of Gray’s legs on their next possession. Gray rushed for 47 yards on this drive alone, and capped it with a one-yard out route to tight end John Rabe for his first touchdown reception to open the fourth.
Minnesota’s defense clamped down at the start of the final quarter and on a crucial fourth-and-five play, Bennett blocked the RedHawk’s punt attempt, and recovered it for a touchdown that gave the Gophers a 29-16 lead and some much-needed breathing room.
The score proved crucial, because the RedHawks weaved their way through the Gophers’ secondary. Dysert connected on his next six of eight passes including a touchdown, which made it a one-possession game.
The Gophers were stymied by Miami on the RedHawk’s 35-yard line, and attempted a fourth-and-nine conversion with three minutes remaining.
They failed to convert and the Minnesota’s defense had to take the field one last time.
The RedHawks marched down the field, and Dysert several times made something out of nothing by scrambling around in the backfield and narrowly avoiding sacks.
Miami got the ball inside the red zone in the six-point game. An incomplete fade route to the end zone with three seconds remaining sealed the victory when Royston deflected the pass.
Dysert, after being slowed down by the Minnesota defense in the first half, finished the game with 325 yards passing and two touchdowns. Harwell finished with a team-high 12 catches for 162 of those yards.
Gray still looked raw in the passing game, often struggling to read through progression. If his first option was covered, he would take off down the field.
Still, he finished with 334 yards of total offense and a touchdown.
“He’s played three games in four years,” Kill said. “You can see him gaining confidence. There is a lot he still needs to learn. I’m real proud of him.”
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
When UMN students plan for a vacation, having trip cancellation travel insurance is a worthwhile commodity to check out.
Minneapolis Used Cars
Give back to the Minnesota community with a boat donation at boat4causes.org.
If you have been involved in a car accident call a Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyer for a free consultation.