Gopher gridders hit ground running

The 40,183 fans who bought tickets to see Minnesota roll to a 47-10 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday at the Metrodome probably could have — and perhaps should have — pulled off a move made famous by their counterparts in southern California.
Show up late and leave early.
A frustrating first quarter for the Gophers turned into a dominating middle pair of quarters, before fading to a finish as slow as a Friday afternoon biology lecture.
Although the game didn’t go as well as Glen Mason had wanted — it rarely seems to in nonconference games — the end result was what the fourth-year coach and his team expected: a season-opening win.
“I thought we’ve played better. We’ve practiced better,” Mason said. “I thought we would get off to a faster start offensively and defensively.”
That slow start featured a pass interference penalty on the second play of the game, a three-and-out on the first offensive series, and a breakdown in the defense that led to an Indians touchdown and 7-0 lead.
“We all knew it was going to be rough in the beginning,” defensive end Karon Riley said. “The first game of the season is always a little rocky.”
All eyes were on redshirt freshman quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq and how he would perform in his debut.
With his nerves rolling, Abdul-Khaliq had a shaky start, throwing several passes off target. He was 2 of 5 for 13 yards in the first two Gophers possessions.
Once settled in, Abdul-Khaliq began to show the strong, accurate arm the Gophers hope will carry the offense.
Abdul-Khaliq connected with fellow redshirt freshman Ben Utect on the first play of the second quarter for a 38-yard touchdown. The tight end’s reception gave Minnesota a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Abdul-Khaliq added two more touchdowns of 37 and 18 yards to junior wide receiver Ron Johnson, giving the Gophers a 24-7 lead late in the half.
That’s where Abdul-Khaliq’s day ended.
A helmet-to-chin hit by Louisiana-Monroe’s Henry Whitehead sent Abdul-Khaliq to the Metrodome turf. The dazed quarterback was taken off the field in a cart and didn’t return.
“I don’t think he was knocked cold,” Mason said. “There’s all different types of concussions, but I would say, yeah, he had a concussion.”
Mason added he expects Abdul-Khaliq to be fine for Saturday’s game against Ohio. Abdul-Khaliq was given a CAT scan as a precaution.
Before the injury, Mason said he could tell Abdul-Khaliq was making his first career start. Mason added his quarterback played “OK.”
“You could see a couple of passes, even when he was completing them, weren’t on the mark,” Mason said. “Because when he’s on, he can pinpoint those babies.”
Abdul-Khaliq finished 12 of 18 for 161 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
With Abdul-Khaliq out, the Gophers brought in Travis Cole, a junior college transfer, to run the offense.
But instead of letting Cole have free reign like Abdul-Khaliq, the Gophers switched their offensive game plan to a more run-oriented attack. All told, Cole attempted only seven passes.
Sophomore Tellis Redmon, starting for the injured Thomas Tapeh, carried the ball 27 times (14 in the third quarter) for 101 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
With Redmon carrying the ball often and Minnesota’s defense shutting down Indians offensive attack, the Gophers wore down Louisiana-Monroe and put the game away in the third quarter.
“I just think we have more good football players than they have, and we kept coming at them,” Mason said. “We’re bigger than they are and stronger than they are. I think the cumulative effect of that type of football took its wear and tear on those guys.”
With the outcome in hand, the benches began to empty — third-string quarterback Benji Kamrath saw a pair of series — and the game began to slow.
Despite the anticlimactic finish, the Minnesota backups did their jobs. There were no more Louisiana-Monroe points or serious Minnesota injuries.
The Gophers now turn to next week and the possibility they could be without their starting quarterback, but might be bolstered with the return of Tapeh, their hyped-up running back who has yet to play a down.
Although uncertainties remain for Minnesota, one thing is certain: The opening game is in the books, and the kinks appear to be on their way out.
“Once everybody got that first hit, that first catch or that first pass thrown, we all got into it,” Johnson said.

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]