The Gophers were able to pull away in the second half with the help of three touchdown returns. Marcus Jones got the big play second half started by returning the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Martez Shabazz later scooped up a blocked field goal by Ra'Shede Hageman and ran 51 yards for a touchdown. Finally early in the fourth quarter Briean Boddy-Calhoun returned an interception 89-yards to bust the game open.
The statistics heavily favored the Rebels while the scoreboard heavily favored the Gophers.
Gophers fans can take several things away from the game.
Reasons for optimism
Reason No. 1 - the Gophers averaged more than five yards per play. Despite the offense kicking the average up almost a full yard in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to a 60-yard run by David Cobb, the offense was able to move the ball. The Gophers did it with low-yardage and big plays.
Reason No. 2 - Philip Nelson can make "it" plays. The sophomore had an inconsistent game and only completed 10-22 passes for 99 yards, one touchdown and one interception. However, two plays stand out as plays that winning quarterbacks make during the course of a game. The first came in the team's first drive when he completed a third-and-six pass to K.J. Maye for a first down. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover called a designed roll out to Nelson's left. Nelson squared his shoulders and fired a perfect pass to Maye one yard beyond the first down line. Coverage was tight and Nelson threw the ball to the only spot the defender could not make a play on it.
Reason No. 3 - The defense and special teams can put points on the board. The most important aspect of Thursday's opener was that the Gophers can score in all three phases of the game. The offense scored four touchdowns, the defense scored one and the special teams added two. Being able to score on defense and special teams allowed the offense to rest and took pressure off that unit.
Reasons to worry
Reason No. 1 - the defense was burned by quick, short passes. The Gophers have had a problem for years of giving up quick passes of one to four yards with little difficulty. Most of the damage came on the opening drive of the game when the Gophers could have set the tone and establish who the better team was. UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry completed nine of his first 10 passes without throwing the ball more 10 yards downfield.
Reason No. 2 - The punting unit is still bad. The Gophers have not been able to change field position through their punter. Peter Mortell earned the starting spot and averaged just 38.3 yards with a long of 43. He did get one of his three punts inside the 20-yard line, but short punts with little hang time are going to get the Gophers in trouble over the course of the season.
Reason No. 3 - The wide receivers are still a huge question mark. No receiver stepped up for Nelson. Maye led the team with three catches for 30 yards. Tight end Drew Goodger and wide receiver Isaac Fruechte were second with two. Nelson completed six of his passes to wide receivers, three to tight ends and one to a running back. Derrick Engel, who is the returning leading receiver from last season, was held without a catch. In addition, the senior did not help his quarterback on the interception in the first quarter. Nelson's ball was in the air a long time, Engel did not go up to make a play on the ball. He waited for the ball to come down, but by that time the safety had come over to make a play.