MINNEAPOLIS -- Four huge plays -- two on special teams -- were the key to an opening night Gophers victory Thursday at a steamy TCF Bank Stadium, as Minnesota toppled UNLV 51-23.
"We had some kids who stepped up and made some big plays," Coach Jerry Kill told the Big Ten Network after the game.
Down 6-3 early in the second quarter, Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson jaunted 48 yards for a touchdown to give Minnesota its first lead of the game.
At the start of the second half, with Minnesota up by a field goal, Marcus Jones ran back the opening kickoff 98 yards to give the Gophers a 10-point lead at 23-13.
Seven minutes later, UNLV's Nolan Kohorst had a 37-yard field goal blocked. Minnesota's Martez Shabazz picked it up, and ran for 51 yards give the Gophers a 17-point cushion.
The Gophers put it out of reach early in the fourth quarter when cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun picked off Runnin' Rebels quarterback Nick Sherry at the 11-yard-line, and ran it back 89 yards for a touchdown.
Nelson, who was 10-for-22, with 99 yards passing on the night, also tossed a 34-yard touchdown pass to Maxx Williams with seconds to go in the first half. He also ran another one in from the 5-yard-line midway through the fourth quarter to give the Gophers a 44-16 cushion.
Minnesota (1-0-0) travels to New Mexico State a week from Saturday for its second non-conference game.
The Gophers open the Big Ten season against Iowa at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 28.