Numbers belie lackluster effort

Minnesota rushed for 355 yads in a home-opening blowout win over Colorado State.

by David McCoy

Six games.

At the rate it was going Saturday, that’s how long it would have taken Colorado State to equal the rushing yardage total amassed by Minnesota’s football team in its home opening 56-24 win over the Rams.

And that’s if the Gophers didn’t rush the ball again.

Conversely, if Minnesota had gained only 1 yard each time it ran the ball, the teams would have had equal totals.

The Rams ran the ball 25 times for 59 yards, while the Gophers ran the ball 59 times for 355 yards – more than six times the total rushing yardage of Colorado State.

Consequently, the ground game proved to be the difference in Saturday’s game, though it didn’t seem like it to anyone on Minnesota’s side of the ball.

“It’s an odd feeling,” Gophers center Greg Eslinger said. “It’s interesting to see that stat because it didn’t feel like that.”

Perhaps that’s because of the way Minnesota struggled to run the ball early on. Laurence Maroney opened the game with two back-to-back 7-yard runs, quickly picking up a first down.

But after that, the Gophers didn’t have another rushing play that yielded more than 6 yards for the remainder of the first quarter. Even Maroney, who set a career-high with 203 rushing yards last week at Tulsa, was held to just 2.9 yards a carry in the first period.

But on the sixth play of the second quarter, Minnesota’s Gary Russell plunged through a hole in the middle of the Gophers’ offensive line for a 14-yard run which set up first and goal on the Colorado State 6-yard line, which seemed to open things up from there on out.

“That play really boosted our confidence,” Eslinger said. “And I think that helped out a lot. I mean, that’s what we look for. We’re a team that’s usually 4 yards and a cloud of dust, but we look for those big plays because they do a lot for our confidence.”

Two plays later, another Minnesota running back got involved, as Bryan Cupito lobbed a pass to wide-open fullback Justin Valentine, which he bobbled and had to dive to keep from dropping in the left side of the end zone. It was Cupito’s first completion to a running back this season and gave Minnesota a 10-0 lead.

Russell’s spark led to several other big rushing plays for the Gophers. On Minnesota’s next possession, wide receiver Jakari Wallace took an end around for a 38-yard run off the right side, the first of six rushing plays of at least 15 yards.

The very next play, Cupito was intercepted by Travis Garcia. However, Minnesota’s run defense stopped the Rams on three straight running plays. After returning a punt, the Gophers ran three straight running plays resulting in a 2-yard touchdown run by Maroney – the first of five rushing touchdowns by Minnesota. Fullback Jason Lamers had one touchdown while Russell and Maroney both scored two.

“Well, as they say in the old days, that was an old-fashioned butt-kicking,” Rams coach Sonny Lubick said. “We knew coming they’d be a strong football team; physical, you know. Big, strong tough football team. They proved it to us. And I don’t know all the things that happened out there, but they ran the ball well.”

Maroney led the Gophers with 133 yards on 26 carries. Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie led the Rams with 20 yards.

But despite the big numbers for Minnesota, Gophers coach Glen Mason said his running game did not seem like it was dominant.

“To be quite frank with you, I was shocked when I looked down and it said 355 yards,” Mason said. “Most people would strike up a band to be able to rush for 355. Most people can’t rush for 355 yards against air. And sometimes we can’t throw for 35 inches against air. That’s the way it goes.”