The Minnesota Golden Gophers needed a spark to pull away from the Western Illinois Leathernecks Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
They got it from the defense. After backup quarterback Mitch Leidner fumbled inside the Leatherneck five-yard line while fighting for more yards, the defense stepped up and allowed just a seven-yard gain on third down to force a punt.
Reserve defensive back Steven Montgomery got some pressure on punter Nathan Knuffman and forced him into just a 17-yard punt. The ball went out of bounds at the Leather 25-yard line and six plays later, David Cobb punched in a two-yard touchdown run to put the Gophers in front for good.
The Gophers finished the game scoring 22 unanswered points en route to a 29-12 victory.
Mitch Leidner took over for Phil Nelson after the starting quarterback suffered an injury to his right hamstring. The redshirt freshman from Lakeville led the Gophers on four scoring drives, including three in the final 18 minutes of the game.
"It was a good feeling to get out on the field today," Leidner said. "It really helped me to have (Cobb and Rodrick Williams) helping me out. It took a lot of pressure off me when I knew I could give to the running backs. I had a good time out there and it was even better when the offense started to pick up."
The Gophers (3-0) were able to wear the Leathernecks down in the second half with 153 rushing yards. Cobb led the Gophers rushing attack with 82 yards and the team, on the legs of four runners, finished with 213 yards on the ground.
The Gophers finished the game with a 213-68 edge in rushing yards and only trailed in passing by 38 yards.
The Gophers special teams unit continues to haunt the opposing kicker finishing Saturday's win with a two-point conversion stop, blocked extra point attempt and forced a shanked punt.
The Leathernecks (2-1) were able to convert a few big plays into touchdowns on their two scoring drives, but they were able to muster more than 20 yards on their nine non-scoring drives. Their two touchdowns are the first touchdowns they have scored against an FBS opponent since rattling of 21 points against the Purdue Boilermakers in 2010. It was shutout by the Missouri Tigers in 2011 and kicked a field goal against the Iowa State Cyclones last season.
The biggest news, however, coming out of TCF Bank Stadium may be the health of head coach Jerry Kill. Seizures a part Kill's life, but the questions remain. Both coaches and players know what their job is and to remain focused.
"We keep our normal routine," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "That is how we are trained. That is what (Kill) would want. The team knows what they have to do and nothing changes."
The Gophers continue their home schedule Saturday Sept. 21 against the San Jose State Spartans.
Players of the Game
Offense - David Cobb. The junior running back finished with 82 rushing yards, 10 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Defense - Ra'Shede Hageman. The senior defensive tackle finished with six tackles (two for a loss), one sack and one pass break up.
Special Teams - K.J. Maye. The sophomore wide receiver had one punt return for 26 yards.
Western Illinois 6 0 6 0 - 12
Minnesota 0 7 8 14 - 29
WIU - Howington 1 pass from Norvell (conversion failed).
Minn - Williams 1 run (Hawthorne kick).
WIU - Lenoir 11 pass from Norvell (kick failed).
Minn - Cobb 2 run (Hutton pass from Leidner).
Minn - Cobb 3 run (Hawthorne kick).
Minn - Williams 37 run (Hawthorne kick).