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Gophers score 41 unanswered points to rout New Mexico State

Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Seth Green (17) rushes for a touchdown over New Mexico State Aggies defensive back Ray Buford Jr. (1) in the first half at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday night in Minneapolis. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports1 / 3
Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Tyler Johnson (6) catches a pass as New Mexico State Aggies defensive back Shamad Lomax (22) plays defense in the first half at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday night. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports2 / 3
Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck leads his team out onto the field before a game against the New Mexico State Aggies at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday night. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports3 / 3

MINNEAPOLIS—Minnesota might be getting a lot of attention for starting a freshman walk-on at quarterback, but Thursday's season opener against New Mexico State showed that its senior running back should receive plenty of attention as well.

Rodney Smith showed why he could be one of the Big Ten's most underrated backs this year, as he ran for 153 yards on 24 carries to help lead the Golden Gophers to a 48-10 home win over New Mexico State.

After New Mexico State built a 10-7 lead in the first minute of the second quarter, Smith and Minnesota took over by scoring 41 unanswered points.

A 9-yard touchdown run by Smith with 11:35 remaining in the first half gave Minnesota a 14-10 lead, and then Smith scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to put Minnesota up 21-10 with 3:21 to go in the first half.

Antoine Winfield Jr. returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown to give Minnesota a 28-10 lead with 2:45 remaining in the first half. Soon after, freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad hit wideout Tyler Johnson for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 57 seconds left in the first half to give Minnesota a 35-10 lead.

On Minnesota's three scoring drives in the second quarter, Smith ran for 94 yards.

The bad news for Minnesota was that Smith was seen limping noticeably on the sidelines in the fourth quarter.

Minnesota added two field goals in the third quarter and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Named the starting quarterback before the game despite being a freshman walk-on, Annexstad went 16 of 33 for 220 yards and two touchdowns in his debut.

Johnson had five receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns for Minnesota.

Matt Romero went 29 of 58 passing for 233 yards, a touchdown and an interception for New Mexico State, which fell to 0-2 on the season following a home loss to Wyoming last Saturday.