The Gophers football team got a big surprise performance on offense Saturday when senior Kobe McCrary had 23 carries for 107 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-3 victory over Middle Tennessee at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Gophers have outscored opponents 99-24 over their first three games as they enter their bye week.
Saturday, they had to play without Shannon Brooks; Rodney Smith got injured late; and Tyler Johnson — the big early-season offensive standout — had only two receptions for 14 yards after grabbing 10 receptions for 268 yards in the first two games.
Coach P.J. Fleck talked about the importance of McCrary’s play.
“[Former Gophers] coach [Glen] Mason said you have to have a pair and a spare, and we had a spare tire tonight, and that wasn’t a spare tire, though, that was a monster truck bigfoot tire,” Fleck said. “He had to step in. We talk about stepping up, you have to go. You have to go now. You can’t warm yourself up, you have to go.
“Kobe knew he’d probably get a little more carries, but then he became the feature back, and we had two backs over 100 yards, but I loved the way he ran. What did he have, 23 carries, 107 yards, three touchdowns, and that’s your third back? I’m proud of his development.”
McCrary said that while he has been third on the depth chart behind Smith and Brooks, he knew he could play.
“All of our running backs are prepared for the next man up, me, [Jonathan] Femi[-Cole], Mo [Mohamed Ibrahim], all of us are good enough to play if somebody goes down,” he said.
McCrary said that the team knew almost immediately that it could run the ball against the Blue Raiders, and the Gophers finished with 237 yards on 47 carries, an average of 5 yards a carry.
“We realized that from the first drive,” McCrary said. “The first play Rod almost broke. We knew we were going to be able to run the ball on them. We came into the game and we had to be physical up front. That was the game plan.”
Huff changed the game
The defense for the Gophers really stepped up, though it was aided by the fact that Middle Tennessee was without starting quarterback Brent Stockstill, and star wide receiver Richie James, who appeared to be injured, only had one reception.
Still the big turning point in the game was when junior safety Jacob Huff grabbed an interception with two minutes remaining in the first half and took it 67 yards for a score. It turned a 10-point game into a much more comfortable 20-3 lead.
“If you ever meet Huff, both of them [Jacob and Julian are identical twin brothers from Bolingbrook, Ill.], they’re hands are the largest hands you’ve ever seen,” Fleck said. “You talk about blue-collar farm hands, they’re thick and they’re strong and they will swallow your hand.
“He reached out and grabbed that thing and it was over. He had a nice block down the field from Blake Cashman to block the quarterback down there. Any time you get a pick-six, that’s big time.”
Fleck loves their play. He even wears a shirt that reads, “I love Jacob Huff.”
It’s a good start to the season for the Gophers, and now they will get a nice break to get healthy before opening Big Ten play at home against Maryland on Sept. 30.
Steelers, Vikings ruled NFL
With the Vikings visiting the Steelers on Sunday, it’s worthwhile to look back at the great history of these two teams and how they dominated the NFL.
From 1970 to 1980 either the Vikings or Steelers made appearances in seven of 11 Super Bowls. The coaches of those squads, Bud Grant for the Vikings and Chuck Noll for the Steelers, remain tied for fourth-most Super Bowl appearances as a head coach with four apiece.
And while the difference in the record of the two teams in those appearances couldn’t be more different — the Steelers went 4-0, the Vikings 0-4 — their one contest against each other, in Super Bowl IX in January 1975, was incredibly close, with a final score of 16-6 for Pittsburgh.
Over the course of their Hall of Fame careers, Noll and Grant squared off six times, splitting the series 3-3.
When asked for his memories of those Steelers squads, Grant immediately spoke of Noll, who died at 82 in 2014.
“In a coaches way I was [friendly with him], but not the kind of guy I’d call up and chew the fat with,” Grant said. “But I told him, I let him know, that I thought he always did a great job. He was not a very public relations-kind of guy. He never had a radio show, never had a television show. He just kind of kept to himself in that atmosphere.
“But he had a great staff that he worked with, and they were there with him for a long time. But I don’t understand how the relationship soured when he left. Because when he left Pittsburgh I talked to him, and he never went back. I mean [quarterback Terry] Bradshaw didn’t go back either. I don’t quite understand that. But whatever they did, they did it right, because they had a great team.”
• Mike Zimmer has never faced the Steelers as a head coach, but he faced them twice a year when he was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, going 4-8 against them. “Pittsburgh’s a really good football team,” he said. “They’re perennially very, very good. They’ve got a great quarterback, great runner, great receiver. Their defense played really well last week with seven sacks.”
• Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook: “I have a lot of respect for his skills. His perimeter speed is exceptional. I’m really good friends with his college coach, Jimbo Fisher, so I’m very familiar with his skill set and what he’s able to do.”
• The Steelers opened with a 21-18 victory at Cleveland, but the first Steelers touchdown came on a blocked punt. The Steelers offense generated only 290 yards of offense, with Ben Roethlisberger throwing two touchdowns to Jesse James.
“We just took what they gave us underneath,” Roethlisberger said of the lack of big plays. “That produces opportunities to still move the ball the same way, just not in big chunks.” Star running back Le’Veon Bell had only 35 yards of offense following a training camp holdout.
• Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards on preparing for Roethlisberger: “He does a lot of good things. He’s got great pocket presence. He’s not a big scrambler, but he does scramble. He’s got great feel in the pocket to hang in there, to move to the right, step up, and get the ball down the field. He’s tough to bring down.” And when it comes to defending five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown, Edwards said it’s a tough matchup because he lines up everywhere and makes plays from all spots. “They move him all over the place and do a good job of getting him the ball with their route concepts down the field,” Edwards said. “It’ll be a tough test for us this week. We’re really going to have to work diligently to make sure we handle the leverage and the coverage on him as they move him around.”
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org