Last season, Minnesota’s football team received a rude awakening to the college football season by being handed a 38-7 defeat at the hands of eventual Motor City Bowl champion Toledo.
After only one play Saturday, most people in the Metrodome realized the Gophers would avert such a disappointing beginning this season.
On the first play from scrimmage, Minnesota lined up junior quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq at left wide receiver with junior Benji Kamrath replacing him under center.
The Gophers ran a reverse with the ball ending up in Abdul-Khaliq’s hands.
Khaliq saw junior Ben Utecht 50 yards downfield and delivered a strike to the tight end resulting in a 75-yard touchdown.
Twenty-three seconds into the contest the Gophers owned a 7-0 lead which would be all the points they would need to defeat NCAA Division I-AA Southwest Texas State on Saturday.
“Obviously we’ll have a lot more formidable opponents coming down the road, but I think it’s a good start,” Mason said. “I like those trick plays. I’ve always liked those things. I always encourage the coaches to run them … when they work.”
Minnesota led 28-0 after the first quarter and cruised to a 42-0 blow-out of the Bobcats in front of a Metrodome crowd of 32,209, earning its first win of the season.
“I like the fact that we got off to a fast start,” Mason said. “When you play teams like Southwest Texas State, you don’t want to let them hang around, because the longer they do the more encouragement they get. Then they start to believe they might be able to win.”
This season the NCAA has allowed college football teams to schedule 12 games due to a calendar oddity in which there are 14 Saturday’s from Labor Day until Nov. 30 — the end of the college football season.
Every Big Ten team has at least 12 games on the calendar with Ohio State and Wisconsin each having 13 games on its schedule.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten has seven bowl tie-ins for the postseason, meaning the Gophers need at least six wins to be eligible for the postseason.
While happy with the win, Mason and the Gophers know tougher opponents lurk on the horizon.
“We’ve got to take where we are after this game and improve,” Mason said. “I thought we played good tonight, but we are going to have to play harder as our schedule gets harder each and every week. Down the road we have some quality opponents and we have to make sure we are ready to play them.”
On Saturday, Minnesota was led by a big-play offense and a swarming defense.
The Gophers scored touchdowns on their first four and five of their first six possessions and was poised to score again before Utecht fumbled on the 4-yard line.
Minnesota gained 395 total yards while the Bobcats only mustered 129. Defensively the Gophers forced three fumbles, racked up four sacks and a Justin Isom interception.
“The offense was great today,” linebacker Ben West said. “It certainly makes our job easier. Starting off the season with a win is a confidence builder. We have to keep our heads in the right place and we know it’s not going to be like this next week.”
Holding a large advantage in the second half, Mason used the opportunity to rest many of his starters and practice some new offensive wrinkles.
Along with the opening play Mason used a few option plays with Abdul-Khaliq and defensive back Dominique Sims, who played quarterback in high school.
“You have to have plays like that in your arsenal,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “You can’t run the same basic things all the time. Teams get used to your certain plays. Sometimes you have to try to catch them off guard and try new things.
That’s what we did and it worked for us today.”
Now the arsenal must be tested against stiffer competition beginning with Louisiana-Lafayette next weekend.
“I thought we played pretty good,” Mason said. “But are we going to play that good against everyone we play? No, because they have something to do with it too.
“Hopefully, what you like to do is build on it on our road trip down to Louisiana. They’ll be a more talented football team.”
Brian Hall covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]