Sid Hartman: Defense, Triplett stand out for Gophers

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 13, 2009 - 12:11 AM

The senior walk-on turned the momentum around with a TD , his second game-changer in as many weeks.

Air Force won all the statistics on Saturday night, and like Gophers coach Tim Brewster said after his team's 20-13 victory, the winners also shot themselves in the foot all night with eight penalties for 69 yards while the Falcons had only two for 15.

And like last week's game at Syracuse, the defense played a big part in the victory. Walk-on linebacker Nate Triplett, who made a key interception a week ago to preserve a victory, played the hero again by causing a fumble and running it 52 yards for a game-turning touchdown.

Triplett also led the Gophers in tackles with 17, with 12 unassisted, to add to his great contribution to the team's second victory of the season.

Triplett, a senior from Delano who started one game last year, wasn't on anybody's recruiting list until the 2005 Minnesota high school all-star game (teamed with Eric Decker). He first attracted the attention of Glen Mason's staff by sparking his team to the Class 3A championship over Crookston, scoring two touchdowns and catching an 80-yard TD pass.

Triplett, who played mostly offense in high school, was moved to defense on the Gophers, and the results have been very positive.

You have to also give a lot of credit to quarterback Adam Weber, who completed 20 of 29 passes for 219 yards. And Eric Decker continued his All-America performance by catching 10 of those passes for 113 yards.

Air Force caused problems for the Gophers defense, but when the defense needed to make the big play, it came through.

Vikings improved

As the Vikings prepare today to face the Browns in Brad Childress' fourth season opener, the head coach believes the team has "gotten better and better.

"The biggest thing you look at is, obviously, to see if you can improve talent and continuity," Childress said. "We've been able -- the Wilfs [team owners] have allowed us to keep all this coaching staff together. I think the draft picks [this year] are guys that will contribute. We did it with a particular eye toward special teams -- with the safeties we kept, with the backup linebackers we kept -- so I think that will help. And, obviously, adding a quarterback, I think, makes us better."

Naturally, the big move was adding veteran quarterback Brett Favre.

"I think he made a quick jump from week one to week two, from four days of practice to one week of practice," said Childress. "I think that will continue to evolve, because we'll be talking about growing even at the end of the season, whether it's growing with his relationship with the tight ends, or [receivers] Bernard Berrian or Sidney Rice or with the running backs. I think that will just continue to evolve."

Childress said the chemistry is good on the team despite media reports to the contrary. Favre's arrival might have been especially upsetting to quarterbacks Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson, but that's not the case.

"[Favre has] kind of endeared himself to them as well," Childress said. "Those guys have a good room and good exchange. They have fun in there with Kevin [Rogers, the quarterback coach]. [Favre is] all about wanting to win. He doesn't need the money right now, he doesn't need the commercials. He wants to win and he wants to win with the Vikings."

Another newcomer, receiver Percy Harvin, has gotten as big a buildup as any recent top draft choice, including running back Adrian Peterson.

"He missed that first [preseason] game and this last one, but I think he's as advertised in terms of having the quicks and being able to contribute in the return game," Childress said. "We'll get him involved here as we go. It remains to be seen how many times we can put his hands on the ball. There's only one ball, though, for Berrian, Peterson, Harvin, [tight end Visanthe] Shiancoe and Favre."

Yes, the Vikings record under Childress has improved as good players have been added. Former coach Bud Grant, who had great success with the Vikings, will tell you that the coaching role is exaggerated. The team with the best players wins.

I believe Childress has done a great job during his three past seasons here. He has put together a good coaching staff. In my visits with general managers and coaches around the NFL, they have sung the praises of Childress, who proved himself worthy of the accolades by winning the division last year.

Jottings

Local author and businessman Harvey Mackay has been elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Board of Trustees. Mackay was in Springfield, Mass., this weekend, where Michael Jordan, David Robinson, John Stockton and C. Vivian Stringer were inducted into the hall.

While all of the seats won't be installed until November at the new Twins stadium, Kevin Smith, the club's director of public affairs, looks for the capacity of Target Field to be slightly under 40,000.

The Vikings will have new advertising signs at the main four entrances of the Metrodome starting with the home opener against the 49ers.

Don't be surprised if receiver Bobby Wade, who was released by the Vikings, winds up back with the Bears.

All members of the Timberwolves front office, plus assistant coaches who were with the team before David Kahn took over as president of basketball operations, will have jobs for the 2009-10 season, but they could be in different capacities. ... Rob Moor, the team's chief executive, said the Timberwolves have sold 1,000 new season tickets. The season ticket total is expected to be in the area of 7,000, the same as last year.

There will be a lot of freshmen Gophers football players redshirted this year. Among those is expected to be highly recruited quarterback Moses Alipate of Bloomington Jefferson.

Gophers football coach Tim Brewster landed in a helicopter on Friday night at three high school football games: Minnetonka-Wayzata, Irondale-Spring Lake Park and White Bear Lake-Cretin-Derham Hall. The schools have several top recruits.

Twins who will be eligible for arbitration next season include pitchers Pat Neshek, Francisco Liriano, Jesse Crain, Boof Bonser, Matt Guerrier and Glen Perkins, infielder Brendan Harris and outfielder Carlos Gomez.

Craig Breslow, the pitcher who was claimed by the A's on waivers from the Twins, had compiled a 1.69 ERA over his last 14 games before Saturday's game here. ... Another outstanding member of the A's bullpen is Austin native Michael Wuertz, who has allowed three earned runs over the past 17 outings for an ERA of 1.42.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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