Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood set the tone for Saturday’s full-contact scrimmage on the second play, when he burst through a huge hole for a 46-yard gain.
It was the first of five runs for at least 20 yards in the team’s second scrimmage of the spring. David Cobb had a 38-yarder, Cole Banham had a 64-yarder and quarterback Mitch Leidner had runs that went for 21 and 24 yards.
“I was encouraged we popped some big plays because we didn’t have much of that last year,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said.
It was less encouraging for the defense, which made big strides overall last year but still needs work against the run.
“I don’t mind seeing a run break every now and then because then we get a tackle in the secondary,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “But at the same time, it shouldn’t get there.”
Nelson looks solid
Philip Nelson completed eight of 14 passes for 80 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown strike to Isaac Fruechte on the first drive.
“He made some hot throws against blitzes, he kept the chains moving, he made a great touchdown throw early,” quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski said. “I thought he got in a great rhythm.”
Leidner had some impressive runs but finished just 1-for-5 passing on the day.
“I thought Mitch played well in the [April 12] scrimmage,” Zebrowski said. “I felt like he got more reps in some tougher situations [Saturday] and did some really good things. He still ran well ... and made some good decisions.”
• Chris Hawthorne hit field goals from 28 and 36 yards during the scrimmage. Afterward, coach Jerry Kill invited about 300 spectators onto the field to add chaos for Hawthorne’s last two kicks, and he drilled both 42-yarders, finishing a perfect day.
• Claeys said he will limit the repetitions for defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, safety Brock Vereen and cornerback Derrick Wells through the April 27 spring game. The coaching staff knows their abilities and wants to be sure they are healthy heading into fall camp.
• The crowd on the field included about 60 kids from the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota. Kill shouted encouragement to the group, telling the kids never to give up chasing their dreams. “You can do it!” Kill said. “And don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it!”