Gophers Take Opener over Eastern Illinois 42-20
August 28, 2014

Big plays and timely turnovers propelled the Minnesota Gophers to a 42-20 win over the Eastern Illinois Panthers in the season opener for both teams.

Eastern Illinois had a considerable edge (409 to 338) in yards from scrimmage over Minnesota, but gaffes and goofs were the team’s undoing. An impressive first drive by the Panthers reached the Minnesota 30. However, quarterback Jalen Whitlow let a snap through his hands, resulting in a 17-yard loss, causing Eastern Illinois to have to punt.

Later in the first quarter, Whitlow wasn’t ready for the snap and had it hit off his stomach and fall to the ground deep in Eastern Illinois territory. Minnesota’s Alex Keith recovered on the 5, and three plays later quarterback Mitch Leidner scrambled for a touchdown, the first score of the game.

The Gophers maintained a solid advantage in field position throughout the game thanks to the punting of Peter Mortell, who averaged 51.2 yards on five punts, and Ryan Santoso’s booming kickoffs. Going with a no-huddle offense and switching quarterbacks between Whitlow and Andrew Manley, the Panthers moved the ball well but always came up short until after the Gophers had built a 35-0 lead.

Both Manley and Whitlow threw interceptions, and another threat was thwarted when Keith forced a fumble and recovered on the Minnesota 4 midway through the third quarter.

Minnesota got big plays from its special teams. Eric Murray raced in to block a punt by Cody Edwards in the opening minutes of the second half. Logan Hutton of the Gophers caught the ball in the air at the Panther 2 and took it into the end zone for a 21-0 lead. Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said they had detected a flaw in the Eastern Illinois scheme and went for the block, using the speedy Murray to go for the block.

Another speedster, Berkley Edwards, opened the gap with a pair of touchdown runs in the fourth quarter. A redshirt freshman playing his first college game, Edwards showed his speed on the second romp, bursting through the middle for a 42-yard run.

Edwards gained 60 yards on four rushes while starter David Cobb ran for 71 net yards. Leidner was 9 for 17 passing for 144 yards. Backup Chris Streveler got into the game in the fourth quarter and completed 1 pass for 12 yards. He also had five carries for 21 yards.

Whitlow was the Panthers’ leading rusher with 77 yards. He also passed for 110 while Manley completed 18 of 34 passes for 200 yards. Adam Drake was the primary receiver for Eastern Illinois, catching 11 passes for 109 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown reception on the final play of the game.

The futility and frustration experienced by the Panthers was illustrated by a third-quarter quick kick by Whitlow that traveled only three yards. In addition linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill was kicked out of the game on the first play of the fourth quarter when he punched Minnesota’s Zac Epping in the groin.

Kill characterized the victory as an “excellent win” and said he was “excited about the progress” of the team. The comments are to be expected after a win over a lesser opponent, and the Gophers will continue their nonconference schedule against Middle Tennessee State, another game forecast to be an “excellent win.”

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