LAS VEGAS – Senior linebacker Keanon Cooper wore number 51 on Thursday — the same number as his roommate and former Gophers teammate Gary Tinsley, who died tragically in April because of an enlarged heart.
“It was something that we always talked about,” said Cooper, who found Tinsley unresponsive in his dorm room April 6. He said the decision to wear it Thursday wasn’t made until recently.
A few different players might wear Tinsley’s number in other games this season, Cooper said.
“He was close to a lot of players on this team, so a lot of guys are going to have the honor to wear it,” he said.
Gophers’ D adjusts
Nevada-Las Vegas used a traditional, two-back offense Thursday — a completely different look from its 2011 “pistol” offense that Minnesota had spent weeks preparing for.
“We had to make some adjustments on the fly and on the run, and our kids, with a young defense, did a great job,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “So that’s what I feel pretty good about, because we worked against the pistol and the option and all that stuff for three weeks.”
• The Gophers held UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry to 116 passing yards and 16 completions in 35 attempts. The Rebels’ longest offensive play was a 25-yard run by tailback Tim Cornett, who finished with 127 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
• Thursday’s game ends a string of four consecutive road-openers. The Gophers will play at least their next four season openers at home, including a 2013 rematch against UNLV at TCF Bank Stadium.
“We have an agreement with the State Fair that we’ll play on Thursday nights,” said Gophers athletics director Norwood Teague, who was in attendance Thursday. “We haven’t agreed on the timeframe, but it’ll be for years to come.”
• Minnesota’s 30 points Thursday were the most it has scored in the Kill era.
• This was Kill’s first season-opening win since 2007, when he coached Southern Illinois.
• Junior receiver A.J. Barker, who caught three passes for a game-high 101 yards, had just one career reception for 17 yards entering the game.
• Junior Brendan Beal, who missed all of last season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, recorded three assisted tackles in his first collegiate game.