Gophers lose to Aggies in Kill’s home debut

Minnesota struggled to stop the run, prevent big plays and move the ball against NMSU.

New Mexico State running back Robert Clay walked into the end zone on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.  Minnesota struggled to stop NMSUs offense throughout the game.

Mark Vancleave

New Mexico State running back Robert Clay walked into the end zone on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota struggled to stop NMSU’s offense throughout the game.

by Samuel Gordon

Head coach Jerry KillâÄôs seizure with 20 seconds left in regulation overshadowed the outcome of his home debut with Minnesota, which may have been forgettable in its own regard.

The Gophers fell to New Mexico State in their home opener, 28-21. Former Gophers defensive back DeWayne Walker coached the Aggies to their first-ever win over a Big Ten opponent.

New Mexico State quarterback Andrew Manley torched the Gophers secondary, completing his first 12 passes en route to throwing for 288 yards and three scores.

The sophomore led the offense on a six-play, 60-yard scoring drive on the gameâÄôs opening possession that was capped by a 26-yard play-action pass to an uncovered Taveon Rogers.

The Gophers couldnâÄôt stop the run, either. NMSU ran 23 times last week for just six yards, an anemic 0.3 yards per carry. The Aggies ran 37 times for a whopping 133 yards Saturday.

Minnesota tied the game 7-7 at the 4:29 mark in the first quarter when junior quarterback MarQueis Gray guided a 10-play drive that culminated in freshman running back Lamonte EdwardsâÄô first career touchdown, a four-yard plunge.

The Gophers were knocking on the door again early in the second quarter.

Senior wide receiver DaâÄôJon McKnight made the most impressive of his career-high nine grabs at the beginning of the second quarter.

McKnight dove between two defenders and snagged GrayâÄôs pass with one hand, reeling the ball in prior to hitting the ground. The play was upheld upon review, resulting in a 30-yard gain which set up first-and-goal at the four yard line, but the Gophers failed to cash in.

Gray missed a wide open John Rabe in the back of the end zone on first down, and was intercepted on a deflection two plays later.

The Aggies wasted no time, taking only three plays to regain the lead. Manley found Rogers in the second window of a slant pattern, and the senior receiver did the rest, outrunning Minnesota defenders into the end zone.

After a Gophers turnover on downs, New Mexico State widened the gap on ManleyâÄôs third touchdown pass of the half, a four-yard toss to tight end David Quiroga.

The teams exchanged interceptions on the following two possessions before the Minnesota defense came up with a stop to regain the ball with a little more than three minutes left in the second quarter.

Trailing 21-7 with 51 seconds remaining in the half, Minnesota used a six-play, 69-yard drive to successfully cut into the deficit when Gray connected with senior tight end Collin McGarry on a 10-yard score.

The teams entered the locker room with New Mexico State leading Minnesota 21-14.

True freshman quarterback Max Shortell was forced into action to start the second half, as Gray suffered from cramps for the second week in a row.

Shortell moved the team into field goal range, but the Gophers squandered an opportunity for points when kicker Chris Hawthorne missed a 39-yard field goal just left.

After two punts by each team, the Aggies embarked on a scoring drive of 94 yards to extend their lead to 28-14. A pass interference call negated a goal-line interception by Kim Royston, and tailback Robert Clay waltzed into the end zone from two yards out.

Minnesota responded immediately. With Gray back in the game, the Gophers drove 68 yards and the quarterback hit McKnight on a slant for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal to the elation of the crowd.

Manley and the offense took the field, clinging on to a 28-21 lead with 11:47 remaining, but sophomore cornerback Brock Vereen intercepted ManleyâÄôs third down throw, turning the tides yet again. That set the Gophers up with excellent field position and an opportunity to tie the game.

A 13-yard end-around run by wide receiver Malcolm Moulton set up first-and-goal at the NMSU eight-yard line. A five-yard rush by Gray appeared to tie the game, but the touchdown ruling was negated after replays showed he was forced out of bounds. That set Minnesota up with fourth-and-goal from the one.

NMSUâÄôs front seven stuffed Edwards, and the Aggies took over on downs with 7:27 remaining and a one-touchdown lead.

âÄúWe felt like we could turn it around and give it to a big back and get a yard. I thought we did, but you donâÄôt even want to leave that up to chance. We felt good about the [play] call,âÄù offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said.

âÄúItâÄôs disappointing. As an offensive coordinator and an offensive line coach you pride yourself on getting that yard in that point in time.âÄù

The Aggies ran a little more than five minutes off the clock, pounding the ball with Clay before punting to the Gophers.

Minnesota regained possession at its own 11-yard line with 2:02 left in game. Gray, who rushed for 110 yards on Saturday, showcased his ability as a runner on the gameâÄôs final drive, scrambling for multiple first downs.

KillâÄôs collapse came just prior to a fourth-and-10 play. The comeback was halted when Gray failed to pick up a first down and the Aggies forced a turnover on downs.

Hanley took the field, kneeled the ball, and sealed the programâÄôs first victory over a Big Ten team in seven tries.

âÄúDefensively we lost the game in the first half. [We] had one blown assignment. I had one bad call, a really bad call. They end up scoring,âÄù defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said.

 âÄúI do think the kids in the second half competed. We had the chance to make a couple plays,âÄù

Royston, a senior safety, acknowledged the defenseâÄôs poor play in the first half as well.

âÄúJust like last week, we canâÄôt come out slow. WeâÄôre a good football team, but when we get behind itâÄôs not good for anybody,âÄù he said.

Despite the tough loss, senior running back Duane Bennett said the teamâÄôs priority is keeping everyone on the same page in wake of KillâÄôs seizure.

âÄúWeâÄôll keep everyone together and say a couple words because we donâÄôt want to dwell on it,âÄù he said. Kill is expected to fully recover, but no timetable is yet known for his return to the sideline.