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Rookies perform like couple of old hands

  • Article by: Myron P. Medcalf
  • Star Tribune
  • November 17, 2007 - 10:57 PM

At the end of the day, the Badgers owed their victory over the Gophers on Saturday at the Metrodome to the performances of two freshmen who had something to prove. Badgers running back Zach Brown and return man David Gilreath wreaked havoc on a Gophers defense that gave up 443 yards.

Gilreath gave the Badgers solid field position throughout the game and made Minnesota's special teams cautiously deal with the New Hope, Minn., native whenever he was in the game. His presence and 234 all-purpose yards changed the game. It helped that he had 23 friends and family members in the audience.

"It was fun," he said. "I was real excited. I never got to play in the Dome in high school."

And Brown racked up 250 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries while filling in for injured running back P.J. Hill. He said he's felt like he's been given an opportunity to prove his worth.

"Every week, I'm proving myself over and over," he said. "Every week is a brand new week, and you can't go by what you did last week."

The Gophers tried to avoid Gilreath after his 51-yard punt return in the second quarter.

When they decided to kick to him in the third quarter, his 56-yard punt return set up Brown's 16-yard touchdown run. By the fourth quarter, the Gophers opted against punting to Gilreath on a fourth down and decided to fake a punt with just less than 13 minutes remaining in the game. The Gophers didn't get a first down and picked up a holding penalty in the process, which gave the Badgers excellent field position.

Brown picked up a lot of momentum in the second half. His 4-yard scramble for a touchdown -- a play that he kept alive by balancing on one hand before diving into the end zone -- in the fourth quarter helped kill some of Minnesota's momentum.

Badgers head coach Bret Bielema praised both players' performances after the game.

"Zach has been doing a good job for us all year long," he said. "I really like what we got going at the running back position."

Bielema said Gilreath asked to leave campus early so that he could come to Minnesota to see family and friends, who were big motivators for him Saturday.

He also campaigned for the Badgers to play in a bowl game Jan. 1.

"We knew he'd be able to come in and make an impact in the return game, which he was able to do today," Bielema said. "I thought he was really gassed up. He had a huge impact on the game today."

Myron P. Medcalf • mmedcalf@startribune.com

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