The Minnesota Golden Gophers started the 2013 season on a high note, as two special teams touchdowns and a defensive touchdown propelled them to a 51-23 victory over UNLV 51-23 at home. That was the highest scoring output for the Gophers since 2006, which was Glen Mason’s final year as head coach.
Now Minnesota will hit the road to take on New Mexico State on Saturday night. The Aggies gave Texas a test for a bit last Saturday night, even leading the Longhorns 7-0 late in the first half, but they were outscored 42-0 in the second half and ultimately lost 56-7.
Here’s a look at what to watch for in Saturday night’s game.
Gophers’ running back Donnell Kirkwood will miss the game with a right ankle sprain, leaving Rodrick Williams and David Cobb to pick up the slack for the team’s leading rusher in 2012 (926 yards). Both Cobb (six carries for 69 yards) and Williams (four carries for 13 yards; one catch for seven yards) saw action against UNLV last week, and it would not be a shock for both to see double-digit carries aganst New Mexico State.
Quarterback Philip Nelson led the Gophers in rushing last week, with 83 yards on 12 carries along with two touchdowns on the ground, but improved production through the air (10-for-22 for 99 yards, one touchdown and one interception) will be needed going forward. A start on that track could be coming against an Aggies’ defense that allowed 343 passing yards and four touchdowns, along with eight carries for 91 yards and another touchdown, to Texas quarterback David Ash last week.
On the defensive side of the ball for Minnesota, cornerback Derrick Wells (shoulder/hamstring) practiced all week and looks certain to make his season debut on Saturday night after missing last week’s game. With the Gophers’ secondary coming off an excellent showing against the Rebels, they have the luxury of limiting the junior’s snap count if need be.
New Mexico State quarterback Andrew McDonald had a solid game against the Longhorns, going 32-for-46 for 242 yards with a touchdown and a interception along with a team-leading 50 rushing yards on 14 carries. Things should be a bit easier against Minnesota, but the senior signal caller can’t make up for talent deficiencies elsewhere on the Aggies’ roster.
Prediction: Gophers 30, Aggies 14
New Mexico State beat Minnesota 28-21 in Jerry Kill’s second game as Gophers’ head coach in 2011, in a contest that is most known for Kill suffering a seizure and collapsing on the sideline in the final seconds. Look for a much less stressful game for the coach and an easy victory for his team this time around.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.