MINNEAPOLIS -- MarQueis Gray threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more by halftime, and Minnesota finally enjoyed an easy victory over an FCS-level opponent by beating New Hampshire 44-7 on Saturday, the most points in a game by the Gophers in five years.
Gray passed only eight times but completed six for 100 yards and scores to Isaac Fruechte and John Rabe. Gray also gained 109 yards on 17 rushing attempts, including a 75-yard untouched burst through the middle of the line for a momentum-swinging touchdown at the end of the first quarter.
Donnell Kirkwood ran for 70 yards and a third-quarter score on 17 carries for the Golden Gophers (2-0), who had lost three of their last five games against FCS teams.
Backup quarterback Andy Vailas was 18 for 34 for 158 yards and an interception for the Wildcats (1-1).
Gray took two sacks and fumbled three times but recovered all of them. He was on target with his passes, most importantly, after misfiring on several potential touchdown throws in the opener at UNLV. The Gophers had to rally and win 30-27 in triple overtime, in part because of Gray's early inaccuracy.
New Hampshire punter Mike MacArthur let a slightly high snap slip through his hands and pingpong out of the end zone for an early safety. Then his horse-collar penalty at the end of a strong tackle of Troy Stoudermire on the ensuing kickoff gave the Gophers the ball at the Wildcats' 27-yard line. Rabe, who had two touchdown catches in the first game, was wide open on a fade route that Gray threw perfectly for a 9-0 lead.
Then, immediately after New Hampshire's only score, Gray faked a handoff at his own 25, pivoted forward and sprinted into the end zone past the entire Wildcats defense. Gray scored from 11 yards out in the second quarter on the same play, slipping through a couple of tacklers, to give the Gophers a 30-7 lead. That's more points than they scored in any game last season. The final tally of 44 was their highest since a 49-48 loss to Northwestern in 2007.
New Hampshire beat Northwestern on the road in 2006 and actually won five straight games against FBS teams until losing at Pittsburgh in 2010. The Wildcats beat Holy Cross on the road 38-17 last week while rushing for 279 yards and entered the afternoon ranked 12th in the FCS coaches' poll. They've been to the FCS playoffs eight straight years.
But freshman quarterback Sean Goldrich, the Colonial conference rookie of the week, appeared to hurt his left shoulder at the end of a short run on New Hampshire's second play from scrimmage and was replaced by Valai, a sophomore. Except for an eight-play, 76-yard drive late in the first quarter capped by a touchdown run by Chris Setian, the Wildcats and their no-huddle offense were overwhelmed by the bigger, faster Gophers. New Hampshire finished with 68 yards rushing on 32 attempts.
The Wildcats failed on all four of their fourth-down conversions, and Valai was sacked four times in the first half.
Fruechte caught his first career touchdown pass from Gray, and so did A.J. Barker, in the fourth quarter from backup Max Shortell. Fruechte and Barker are part of a young, fast group of wide receivers the Gophers are counting on to help Gray improve on his sporadic performance in 2011, when the Gophers went 3-9 for the second straight season.
The Gophers lost to FCS national champion North Dakota State last year, South Dakota the season before and North Dakota State in 2007. Even their recent wins over FCS teams were ugly, by one point over North Dakota State in 2006 and by three points over South Dakota State in 2009. But the difference with the Wildcats is their roster isn't loaded with Minnesotans looking to upset the biggest school in the region.