Big rushing game helps Gophers win opener

The Gophers ran for 281 yards in a 24-17 victory over Middle Tennessee State, capped by John Hoese's one-yard touchdown run with 3:09 left.

Minnesota running back Duane Bennett (22) runs the ball against Middle Tennessee during an NCAA college football game Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mike Masotti)

The Associated Press

Minnesota running back Duane Bennett (22) runs the ball against Middle Tennessee during an NCAA college football game Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mike Masotti)

John Hageman

Minnesota wanted to run the ball more effectively this season, and Thursday night was a good start. The Gophers defeated Middle Tennessee State 24-17 Thursday night in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on three goal-line touchdown runs by senior fullback Jon Hoese, including the game winner with 3:09 left. Junior running back Duane Bennett led the way all night with a career-high 187 yards on 30 carries, the most yards or carries for a Gophers rusher since Amir Pinnix’s 206 yards and 34 carries against Purdue in 2006. In all, Minnesota ran the ball 66 times for 281 yards, including freshman Donnell Kirkwood’s 50 yards on 11 carries and junior Deleon Eskridge’s 12 carries for 40 yards. That’s a good sign for a Minnesota team that finished last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the past two years. The Gophers dominated the time of possession battle, controlling the ball for more than 75 percent of the game while the Blue Raiders, playing without suspended star quarterback Dwight Dasher, didn’t have a drive lasting longer than two minutes, 16 seconds. “They came here to run the ball,âÄù Blue Raiders head coach Rick Stockstill said. âÄúWhen they are as big as they are, they are going to control the clock. That was their strength and they used it. We could not get the offense on the field a lot in the first quarter.âÄù The Gophers took a quick lead with an 11-play, 79-yard opening drive that featured only one pass and culminated with a Hoese touchdown run. Another Hoese dive into the endzone extended the lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter. The Gophers’ defense kept the Blue Raiders in check for the first quarter and a half, allowing just 42 yards on 14 plays on their first four drives. Sophomore Mike Rallis intercepted sophomore Logan Kilgore’s pass on the Blue Raiders’ second drive of the game. But Middle Tennessee State’s offense woke up with two quick touchdowns in the last seven minutes of the half to tie the game, and they took the leadearly in the third quarter with a 31-yard field goal. Gophers senior kicker Eric Ellestad chipped in a field goal to tie the game early in the fourth after the Gophers drove from their own one-yard line but couldn’t convert on three chances inside the 10. The Gophers marched down the field once more with 15-play, 77-yard drive late in the fourth that ended with Hoese’s third touchdown run. On the ensuing kickoff, the Gophers recovered a Blue Raiders fumble and closed out the game.