Gophers led by strong O-line play

Minnesota improved to 3-0 with a 29-12 win over Western Illinois.

Minnesota running back David Cobb protects the ball from Western Illinois on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Image by Amanda Snyder

Minnesota running back David Cobb protects the ball from Western Illinois on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

by Jack Satzinger

The Gophers’ offense struggled early Saturday in the team’s 29-12 win over Western Illinois, scoring only one touchdown in the first half.

Then, after head coach Jerry Kill was taken to the hospital due to a seizure at halftime, Minnesota lit up the scoreboard.

That second-half spark stemmed largely from the adjustments made by the Gophers’ offensive line at the break.

“We switched some in the second half from zone scheme to more of a power scheme,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Sunday. “We went right at them, and that’s what gave us some success in the second half.”

The results were undeniable for the Gophers.

Junior running back David Cobb went into the end zone twice in the second half behind terrific blocking. Sophomore tailback Rodrick Williams Jr. took advantage of the holes his linemen opened up, bursting past WIU’s linebackers for a 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

“I think the difference was that the whole line clicked and rallied,” Williams Jr. said after the game. “We can really get vertical on these guys and pound the ball down their throat. … That’s what we decided to do.”

Minnesota’s offensive line subbed in redshirt freshman Ben Lauer for Marek Lenkiewicz early in the game. Lenkiewicz, a redshirt junior, has started multiple games in his career with the Gophers, but Lauer has improved dramatically in just his second season.

“Ben Lauer is a kid that’s really come on,” Limegrover said. “He had a good spring, [and] we’ll continue to work him. He’s the kind of kid who’s hard to keep off the field.”

Limegrover said the decision to sub Lauer for Lenkiewicz is similar to the team’s philosophy with running backs – they go with the hot hand.

With Donnell Kirkwood still out with an ankle injury, Williams Jr. and Cobb have shared reps as the team’s top running back for the first three games of the season.

Williams Jr. rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown last week against New Mexico State, but Cobb led the way Saturday with 82 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Cobb had carry for minus-1 yard at halftime, but the adjustments from the offensive line gave him the push he needed to keep the Gophers undefeated early in the 2013 season.

Now Minnesota is focused on having a more consistent performance for an entire game — something it will need against tougher Big Ten opponents.

“We need to eliminate those [mistakes] and need to be more productive up front,” Limegrover said. “We need to be able to put two halves together.”