The Minnesota Golden Gophers football team started the 2012 season the same way it finished the 2011 season, defeating the UNLV Rebels 30-27 in three overtime periods.
Both teams struggled with turnovers and early season mental errors through the contest, but the Gophers found a way to give second-year head coach Jerry Kill his first road victory with the team in six chances.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Gophers were led by senior quarterback MarQueis Gray. Gray completed 17 of 30 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns (both scores coming in overtime) while rushing for 68 yards on 17 carries.
Gray’s two touchdown passes, in the first and second overtime periods, both went to senior tight end John Rabe. Rabe has become a touchdown machine during his two seasons in maroon and gold. Four of his six career receptions have come in the end zone.
Despite solid numbers, it was Gray’s inaccuracy through the air that kept the Rebels in the game and kept the Gophers' offense on the sidelines. Gray missed two wide open targets in the first half and overthrew open receivers as Minnesota was attempting to maintain possession of the ball in the second half.
Gray was not the only person keeping the Rebels in the game. UNLV started a freshman, Nick Sherry, under center for only the third time in program history. Sherry performed admirably despite consistent pressure from the Gophers' defensive line, completing 16 of 35 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.
However, three interceptions (one in the third overtime period), cost UNLV dearly in this game.
Overall, this has to be considered a stepping stone for the Gophers. The team accumulated 478 yards of total offense, including 209 rushing yards. Minnesota was only able to manage two 200+ yard rushing performances last season, but won both of these contests.
Junior college transfers Donnell Kirkwood (13 carries for 81 yards) and James Gillum (14 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown) appear ready to carry the rushing load for a BCS Conference team.
Minnesota (1-0, 1-0 away) will host the New Hampshire Wildcats on September 8, looking to stretch the team’s winning streak to three. The UNLV Rebels (0-1, 0-1 home) will host Northern Arizona looking to pick up an opening victory.
*This was the third consecutive loss to a Big Ten team in a regular season opener for UNLV. The Rebels lost season openers to Wisconsin in 2010 and 2011.
*UNLV junior running back Tim Cornett picked up the fourth 100-yard rushing game of his career, leading all runners with 127 yards on 25 carries.
*Minnesota sophomore defensive back Derrick Wells intercepted the first two passes of his career.
*This game was the only opening night game that went to overtime, and the only game decided by three points or less.