Kill returns for Gophers’ first win

MarQueis Gray set a school QB rushing record and got his first win as the starter.

Gophers head football coach Jerry Kill's wife Rebecca embraces him after the game Saturday against Miami Red Hawks at TCF Bank Stadium.

Gophers head football coach Jerry Kill’s wife Rebecca embraces him after the game Saturday against Miami Red Hawks at TCF Bank Stadium.

Adam Richard

MarQueis Gray scrambled across TCF Bank Stadium field Saturday and gave the Jerry Kill era a needed first win after stumbling out of the gates with two losses.

The Gophers 29-23 victory over Miami of Ohio was GrayâÄôs first as the starting quarterback and he ran for a school-record 171 yards.

Kill coached from the sidelines after spending five days in the hospital following last weekâÄôs seizure. Gray finished a game healthy for the first time this season and thrived when he could tuck and run the ball in broken play situations.

Both teams dealt with strong winds throughout the game, as the contest often slowed to a battle of field position, with the punters playing a pivotal role.

A key special teams play, in which running back Duane Bennett blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown, turned out to be the difference.

Though the Gophers played better than a week ago in all facets of the game, it took a Kim Royston pass deflection in the red zone on the final play to seal a victory.

Minnesota won the opening coin toss and elected to defer  to establish its defensive presence.

The GophersâÄô defensive scheme was more complex than the previous two games, where defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys brought in numerous blitz packages.

Miami was able to exploit an early blitz for a 66-yard pass from quarterback Zac Dysert to Nick Harwell, but the GophersâÄô defense held up on the drive after that and limited the RedHawks to a field goal. That defensive stop was a precursor for the afternoonâÄôs performance.

On the ensuing possession, Gray quickly hit sophomore Malcolm Moulton for a 59-yard pass that set up a Chris Hawthorne field goal to tie the game. The 33-yard field goal was the longest of HawthorneâÄôs career.

MinnesotaâÄôs defense then held Miami to two straight three-and-out drives and limited the RedHawks to two yards rushing.

On the GophersâÄô next drive, they marched down the field and established themselves on short yardage when Donnell Kirkwood ran for his first touchdown of the year.

Minnesota had struggled to that point in the season controlling the line of scrimmage and picking up short yardage.

âÄúKirkwood ran the ball hard today and we need more of that.âÄù Kill said.

Indeed, Kirkwood had more success against the RedHawks than other backs in previous weeks and the ground attack led by Gray allowed the Gophers to dominate the time of possession 35 minutes to 25 minutes.

Gray broke the single-game rushing record for a Minnesota quarterback on 25 carries. The previous record (160 yards) was held by Rose Bowl MVP Sandy Stephens in 1961.

Another quick stop from the GophersâÄô defense that included a sack for freshman Michael Amaefula âÄî the teamâÄôs first sack of the year.

Minnesota began its next drive with a play-action pass to Eric Lair on a crossing pattern for 43 yards down to the Miami 16-yard line. The GophersâÄô offense was stifled at the two-yard line and settled for a 19-yard field goal from Hawthorne to take a 13-3 lead.

The RedHawks capped a later drive with an Erik Finklea 1-yard rushing touchdown with 19 seconds remaining in the half to pull within three, 13-10.

 Dysert later connected for a 7-yard touchdown. Miami failed to convert the extra point and tied the game 16-16.

The Gophers drove down the field on the strength of GrayâÄôs legs on their next possession. Gray rushed for 47 yards on this drive alone, and capped it with a one-yard out route to tight end John Rabe for his first touchdown reception to open the fourth.

MinnesotaâÄôs defense clamped down at the start of the final quarter and on a crucial fourth-and-five play, Bennett blocked the RedHawkâÄôs punt attempt, and recovered it for a touchdown that gave the Gophers a 29-16 lead and some much-needed breathing room.

The score proved crucial, because the RedHawks weaved their way through the GophersâÄô secondary. Dysert connected on his next six of eight passes including a touchdown, which made it a one-possession game.

The Gophers were stymied by Miami on the RedHawkâÄôs 35-yard line, and attempted a fourth-and-nine conversion with three minutes remaining.

They failed to convert and the MinnesotaâÄôs defense had to take the field one last time.

The RedHawks marched down the field, and Dysert several times made something out of nothing by scrambling around in the backfield and narrowly avoiding sacks.

Miami got the ball inside the red zone in the six-point game. An incomplete fade route to the end zone with three seconds remaining sealed the victory when Royston deflected the pass.

Dysert, after being slowed down by the Minnesota defense in the first half, finished the game with 325 yards passing and two touchdowns. Harwell finished with a team-high 12 catches for 162 of those yards.

Gray still looked raw in the passing game, often struggling to read through progression. If his first option was covered, he would take off down the field.

Still, he finished with 334 yards of total offense and a touchdown.

âÄúHeâÄôs played three games in four years,âÄù Kill said. âÄúYou can see him gaining confidence. There is a lot he still needs to learn. IâÄôm real proud of him.âÄù