Rapid Reaction: Zack Annexstad, Minnesota cruise past NMSU after rocky start
A pair of three-and-outs, a touchdown, a fumble and another three-and-out.
Those were the first four possessions for Minnesota’s offense in Thursday night’s season opener against New Mexico State. It was a pretty sloppy start for true freshman Zack Annexstad, resulting in a 7-7 tie to close the first quarter.
But then the butterflies flew away and the first-game jitters vanished. Once the Gophers started rolling, they couldn’t be stopped.
Minnesota’s next four possessions resulted in touchdowns. Seth Green rushed for two scores in consecutive possessions, both inside the 10 yard-line. Antoine Winfield returned a punt 75 yards for a score, obliterating every single member of the Aggies’ coverage team in the process. Annexstad found Tyler Johnson for a 33-yard touchdown pass.
At halftime, the Gophers turned a tight contest into a one-sided affair.
The 48-10 win over New Mexico State was the second-highest scoring total of the P.J. Fleck era, now just in its second year. And the Gophers hit that mark with a true freshman under center and a senior leader in the backfield.
Rodney Smith, who is working on becoming one of the most efficient Minnesota running backs in Minnesota history, rushed for 153 yards on 24 carries. Annexstad, who was playing in his first collegiate game ever, converted on 16-of-33 pass attempts for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he didn’t throw an interception.
This was the kind of performance you expected to see in Week 1 out of Minnesota against a fragile and talent-deprived New Mexico State squad. And you figured Rodney Smith would probably put up big numbers against a poor Aggies defense.
But was this the kind of performance you expected from Annexstad?
No, the numbers aren’t eye-popping or jaw-dropping by any measure. His stat-line is pretty modest considering the heavy passing attacks we see across the B1G now. But 22o yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions is a pretty good starting point for a true freshman. For any quarterback taking his first snaps.
There will still be a lot of questions about Annexstad until the Gophers play a quality opponent. And the walk-on quarterback by no means proved that he’ll be a star under center for Minnesota moving forward.
What did he prove, then?
Annexstad showed his teammates and coaching staff that he isn’t afraid of the moment. He showed that he’s capable of making smart decisions, protecting the football and get the ball into the hands of the playmakers around him.
New Mexico State was the first test that Annexstad passed. It’s only going to get tougher from here, though.
But if Annexstad continues to make smart decisions, protect the football and get the ball into the hands of guys like Smith and Johnson, Minnesota will be just fine with a true freshman under center.