Offense shines as Minnesota dumps Tulsa 49-10

Aaron Blake

Fans at the Metrodome on Saturday night got their first taste of Minnesota football’s much-hyped, three-pronged running attack. But it was the Gophers’ least conspicuous offensive starter that put on the biggest show.

Sophomore wide receiver Jared Ellerson accumulated 156 yards receiving and two touchdowns in Minnesota’s (1-0) 49-10 walloping of Tulsa (0-1), in front of an announced crowd of 36,623.

“With the investment he made and the way he performs each and every day, I would have been shocked if he didn’t play well tonight,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said. “If we’ve practiced 30 times, he’s performed well in 30 practices.”

The high point of the contest came when Ellerson hauled in a 48-yard heave from quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq with 10 seconds remaining in the first half.

With the Gophers having backed themselves into a second-and-24 situation after a trio of penalties, Abdul-Khaliq danced in the pocket and lobbed the ball toward the goal line.

Gophers junior wideout Aaron Hosack and several Hurricane defenders tipped the ball near Ellerson, who got his fingertips on it while falling to the ground.

“I guess it got deflected,” Ellerson said. “All I saw was a thousand hands, and then the ball just came out of nowhere.”

Ellerson’s first of two scores made it 35-0 Minnesota heading into the locker room. His 156 yards in the game were the most by a Gopher since Ron Johnson’s 181 at Iowa on Nov. 17, 2001.

It was also Abdul-Khaliq’s 40th career touchdown toss, which ties him with Cory Sauter for the most in Gophers history.

Minnesota backs ran for a combined 254 yards Saturday. Sophomore Marion Barber III paced the running game with eight carries for 48 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half.

Through the air Abdul-Khaliq was 13-for-17 for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Benji Kamrath saw action in both halves and was three-for-nine for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Hosack had five catches for 51 yards and a score, and All-Big Ten tight end Ben Utecht caught two passes for 51 yards.

“They hold you hostage a little bit with the pass because of Hosack and Utecht,” Tulsa head coach Steve Kragthorpe said. “It’s a well-oiled machine that they’ve got.”

Barber broke a scoreless tie with 47 seconds remaining in the first quarter. His one-yard leap began a streak of six consecutive Gophers possessions leading to touchdowns.

Junior transfer Rhys Lloyd – who became academically eligible Friday – was immediately inserted into Minnesota’s kicking game and connected on all five of his extra point attempts. Lloyd also handled kickoff duties, recording a touchback. Mason declared Lloyd as the team’s starting kicker following the game.

Tulsa avoided a shutout on quarterback James Kilian’s one-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Brad DeVault added a 30-yard field goal for Tulsa with 1:40 to play in the game.

Despite the blowout win, Mason saw ample room for improvement in his team’s season opener.

“It’s hard for me to say I’m not pleased with a 49-10 victory, because I am,” Mason said. “But I thought we had way too many unforced mistakes. You can say it’s the first game, but my team made more mistakes than Tulsa’s team.”

Minnesota had two touchdowns nixed because of holding penalties and accrued seven flags for 55 yards.

Junior defensive tackle Darrell Reid opined that Mason was referring to missed tackles as well.

“I’m not satisfied,” Reid said. “If you’re ever satisfied, you stop getting hungry.”