Lloyd’s feet come in handy on first drive

Ben Goessling

You know your offense is doing well when your punter has more rushes than punts.

Minnesota kicker/punter Rhys Lloyd kept the Gophers’ first drive alive with a bit of improvisation, rolling out for his patented soccer-style punt on fourth-and-six in Minnesota territory and scampering for a 21-yard gain when Toledo’s defense kept retreating. The run moved Minnesota to its own 43, and the Gophers scored four plays later. It also helped earn him Big Ten speical teams player of the week honors.

At the end of the first quarter, Lloyd actually had 15 more rushing yards than Marion Barber III. His 28 yards rushing at the end of the first half was twice as many as Toledo had.

In the second quarter, he scrambled for a first down again from the punt formation, reversing field and picking up 7 yards on fourth-and-one.

The Gophers were up 42-7 at the time, and coach Glen Mason didn’t exactly give his blessing on the second attempt, calling it a “bad decision that (Lloyd) made good.” But it’s clear that the former soccer player is likely to take off at any time.

“In that situation, he has the option to run,” Mason said.

New-look wideouts

Wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright, who sat out last season because he was academically ineligible, posted two catches for 52 yards in his debut. Both went for touchdowns, and the second score earned Wheelwright some face time on SportsCenter, which named it the No. 1 play of the day.

The catch came on the first play of the fourth quarter, when backup quarterback Adam Ernst threw a tight fade to the corner of the end zone. Wheelwright jumped over a defender, tipping the ball to himself with his left hand and catching it with his right before crashing to the turf.

Paris Hamilton, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, caught his first career pass in the third quarter.

Hamilton came to the Gophers from Tyler Junior College in Texas before last season, and was perhaps the team’s most-heralded recruit. He is currently on the second team.

Minnesota lost two of its main passing targets in receiver Aaron Hosack and tight end Ben Utecht to graduation after last season.

No redshirts here

Because Minnesota went deep into its bench for most of the fourth quarter, the Gophers used several players who might have been redshirted.

Third-string quarterback Tony Mortensen was perhaps the most noteworthy example. Mason was undecided as to whether Mortensen would sit out this year, but after the quarterback played more than half the fourth quarter, he doesn’t have a choice now.

Running back Gary Russell, another true freshman, also played Saturday – although it’s less likely he would have redshirted this year. Russell ran for 79 yards on 17 attempts.

Not just Gophers’ turf

The Metrodome turf was still in baseball configuration Saturday night because grounds crews were worried about covering the dirt patches surrounding home plate and the bases after the Minnesota Twins’ morning game.

With such a short turnaround between the 11 a.m. baseball game and the 8 p.m. football game on the Metrodome’s new FieldTurf playing surface, workers feared covering the dirt patches would create seams on the field. The turf might also be in baseball configuration for Minnesota’s Oct. 2 game against Penn State. The Twins are scheduled to play Cleveland that morning.

Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who played on the Metrodome’s old surface in 2002, said he enjoyed the new turf.

Pitching the stadium

The University ran a 10-minute video promoting an on-campus football stadium before the game.