I'll be writing more about this later in the week, but I get the feeling after listening to coach Tim Brewster today and talking with some players is that Saturday's game with Cal is just the sort of game they all want to have, at least once a year, in nonconference play.

The Gophers will be big underdogs. The line I saw today had Cal favored by two TDs. But, to a man, the Gophers say they'd rather have this challenge than play some directional school from some also-ran conference. As fans, I would imagine you'd rather go to a game like this, with a good national audience, than watch Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Gophers think, win or lose, this game will better prepare them for what awaits them in the Big Ten Conference slate, particularly against teams like Ohio State and Penn State. We'll see.

Anyway, here are a few items from Brewster's Tuesday press conference.

First, the weekly awards:

Offensive player of the week: Adam Weber, who grabbed the school record for completions last week.

Defensive player: Nate Triplett, naturally. He only had about 342 tackles.

Special teams: Kicker Eric Ellestad

Hard hat hit: Linebacker Lee Campbell, who dislodged a helmet from an Air Force fullback's head at one point Saturday.

Lunch pail player: Defensive tackle Eric Small, who had five tackles and a sack.

Extra effort: Defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey, who shed a guard then caused the fumble Triplett returned 52 yards for a touchdown.

Great teammate: Safety Kyle Theret.

Offensive scout player: Mike McKelton, who did a good job simulating the Air Force QB running the triple option.

Defensive scout player: Matt Garin.


--Brewster is basically happy with most facets of his special teams, particularly the kick return game and kicker Eric Ellestad. One thing he's not happy about is kickoff coverage. The Falcons averaged 30 yards per return Saturday.

 ''Our kickoff coverage unit needs to improve,'' Brewster said. ''I think last year we were in the top of the nation in covering kicks, and I'm not as excited about the way we're covering kicks. We need to get better.''


The Gophers will have their hands full in this area, as Cal return man Shane Vereen is averaging nearly 28 yards per return.


--Brewster said tackle Matt Stommes ankle injury has heeled. But Dom Alford is still atop the depth chart at left tackle. That's an indication how well Alford is playing. ''Dom has done a real good job, and that's obviously a plus to have a competition like we've got there.


--Cornerback Marcus Sherels (ankle) did not practice today. He is listed as day to day, the same as last week. Considering the skill of the Bears' receiving corps, the Gophers have to hope Sherels improves enough to play this week.

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