MINNEAPOLIS -- From taking his team to see Gophers legend Bruce Smith's gravesite to making his "Row The Boat" mantra ubiquitous across town, new Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck has pulled out all the stops to try to bring some energy and color to a team that was frayed and sullen at the end of last season.
His latest move had the Gophers wearing mascot Goldy's face on their helmets . A 3-0 start should work wonders, too.
Kobe McCrary rushed for 107 yards and three touchdowns and Jacob Huff returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown to lead Minnesota to a 34-3 victory over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday.
Rodney Smith rushed for 107 yards in the first half before leaving with an injury and Conor Rhoda completed 11 of 18 passes for 122 yards in his first game since being named the full-time starter for the Golden Gophers, who wore all gold for the first time since 1974.
"If we don't have fun and we don't enjoy our time together and we can't celebrate the national champion mascot, celebrate our student body in one of the greatest cities in America, then why are we doing it?" said Fleck, who also sported custom Goldy sneakers in honor of the mascot's birthday.
John Urzua was 19 for 34 for 135 yards and two interceptions for Middle Tennessee (1-2) after starting quarterback Brent Stockstill was ruled out with a shoulder injury. Star receiver Richie James had just one catch before leaving early in the second quarter with an ankle injury.
"Take your two best players out of this game and that handcuffs you tremendously," Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said. "You don't have your quarterback or your receiver. That makes it tough."
McCrary filled in well for Smith, dragging safety Alex Dale into the end zone on a 14-yard run in the second quarter that gave Minnesota a 13-3 lead.
"That wasn't a spare tire," Fleck said of McCrary filling in for Smith. "That was a monster truck, Bigfoot tire."
Canon Rooker's 45-yard field goal served as Middle Tennessee's only points of the game.
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