MURFREESBORO – Logan Kilgore proved to be more than capable when he had the ball in his hands Thursday night.
The problem was Middle Tennessee’s sophomore quarterback didn’t have it enough in the Blue Raiders’ season opener against Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers used their size and power to dominate time of possession and kept Kilgore and the MTSU offense off the field long off to hold on for a 24-17 victory in front of 25,908 at Floyd Stadium.
“I know we were wearing their defense down,” Blue Raiders’ head coach Rick Stockstill said. “We just couldn’t get on the field enough in the second half.”
Minnesota (1-0) had the ball for 45 minutes and 34 seconds, while MTSU (0-1) maintained possession for just 14:26.
The Golden Gophers used their size and powerful running game to wear down MTSU. Their starting offensive line weighs an average of 316 pounds, and the front four on defense for the Blue Raiders weighs in at a 249-pound clip.
The Gophers finished with 281 rushing yards on 66 attempts. They were led by 5-foot-9, 210-pound running back Duane Bennett, who rushed for a career-high 187 yards on 30 carries.
“When you are as big as they are and strong and run the ball like they did, they are going to use the clock,” Stockstill said. “That is what they came in here to do. They wanted to use the clock to try to keep our offense off the field.”
The 6-foot-3, 178-pound Kilgore took advantage when he was on the field. The junior college transfer made his collegiate debut filling in for starter Dwight Dasher, who was declared ineligible by the university last week after violating amateur legislation and accepting a $1,500 loan.
After an early pass that was deflected and intercepted, Kilgore got into a groove. He finished 13-for-18 with 172 yards and a touchdown.
He was at his best on the Blue Raiders’ second drive of the second quarter, completing all three passes for 47 yards. His biggest heave – a 32-yard throw over the middle to Malcolm Beyah – set up Middle Tennessee’s first score. Senior Phillip Tanner took a direct snap on the next play and tumbled seven yards into the end zone.
After Minnesota’s Eric Ellestad missed his second field goal, Kilgore again made quick work of the Gophers’ defense. After two quick passes and a 18-yard run by Benjamin Cunningham, he weaved a 22-yard pass between two defenders just inside the left pylon of the end zone. Sancho McDonald made a diving catch with one arm to haul in the touchdown and tie the game.
“That is a throw you know you have to put in there,” Kilgore said. “If you float that ball that wide receiver is going to get killed or that safety is going to pick it off. There is no getting around that. Whether or not it looked like a good pass, I think (McDonald) made a good play.”
MTSU went up 17-14 in the third quarter but Minnesota responded with two long drives.
On a drive that began at their on 1-yard line, the Gophers drove 97 yards and settled for a field goal. They got the ball back one possession later, milked nine minutes off the clock and scored the winning touchdown on a one-yard run by fullback Jon Hoese.
On the ensuing kickoff return, Beyah fumbled and Minnesota recovered with 3:02 to go. The Gophers ran out the clock and Kilgore never got back on the field.
“The game didn’t come down to that one play,” Kilgore said. “But, yeah, I would have loved to get the ball and seen what we could have done.”
• Hoese was playing with a heavy heart.
Last week, his father, Terry, had a stroke which left him in critical condition. The senior was listed as questionable to make the trip to MTSU but the Gophers wer glad he did. The 6-2, 240-pounder rushed eight times for 26 yards and scored all three touchdowns.
“That game ball is going to Terry Hoese,” Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. “That’s the storyline tonight: celebrating the love a son has for his father and the love a father has for his son.”
• The Blue Raiders are 5-32 against teams out of BCS conferences, which include the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, SEC and Pac-10. All five victories have come since 2001. Three are against Vanderbilt and two came against Maryland. MTSU won a 32-31 nail-biter last year on the road against the Terrapins.
• Middle Tennessee has dropped its last four season openers.
• With the loss Thursday night, the Blue Raiders’ seven-game winning streak ended. They had trailed only No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Boise State, who both have won 14 straight, for the nation’s longest streak.