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Hartman: Mason says Gophers still have work to do

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • August 30, 2013 - 7:09 AM

Glen Mason, the former Gophers football coach, did the color on the Big Ten Network telecast of Minnesota’s 51-23 victory over UNLV, and concluded that current head coach Jerry Kill probably would say the win wasn’t as clean as he’d like.

Yes, the Gophers scored touchdowns on a blocked kick, a kickoff return and an 89-yard interception touchdown by Briean Boddy-Calhoun in the second half, but the first half wasn’t as smooth.

“The way the game started out UNLV moved the ball right down the field against the defense — the defense that was ranked fifth in the Big Ten last year,” said Mason, who never should have been fired as the Gophers coach. “I think that was disappointing.”

Offensively, Mason remarked about how unlikely it was that quarterback Philip Nelson led the Gophers in rushing with 83 of the team’s 221 yards on the ground.

“Offensively I’m sure they want to get the running game consistent,” Mason said. “I think Nelson looked good. I think the offensive line has to improve. But they got a lot of big plays in the kicking game and the defense came up with a score.

‘‘When you score twice in the kicking game and once on defense you’re going to win any ballgame you play. Then you start off the second half and [Marcus Jones returns] the kickoff 98 yards for the touchdown and that was the game.”

While Mason said that the Gophers have to improve on their running game, he did note that Nelson is a greatly improved quarterback.

“They took the redshirt off of him last year and he has a year, he’s not a rookie anymore, he’s a veteran,” Mason said. “He is a lot faster than I thought. It was the first time I’ve really seen him play a lot, and on the perimeter, he’s a threat running the football.”

Mason said he believes the Gophers program is improving and that they have a chance to be 4-0 before facing Iowa at home in the Big Ten opener.

“Once you are 5-0 and once you get 5-0 guys start believing and things start going into place and anything can happen,” he said. “All you have to do is knock off someone you’re not supposed to knock off and you have a great year.”

Mason was asked if he misses coaching.

“Oh I miss it greatly. I miss the action,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to be able to work TV and be at the games and watch them, but I miss being down there, making the decisions, being up close to the players. That’s a lot of fun.”

Vikings schedule a test

One thing not working in favor of the Vikings matching last year’s 10-6 record is that their schedule finds them not only facing the top quarterback in the league, Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, twice, but that they face most of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season.

The Vikings also will match up against Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford twice each, and Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III once.

The Vikings faced their easiest test of the preseason against the Titans on Thursday in a 24-23 win, and hopefully they enjoyed it because the start of the regular season will be a tough one for Leslie Frazier’s squad.

After having played Sunday against San Francisco and facing the Titans on Thursday, the Vikings will play three games in the space of 14 days when they open the regular season at Detroit on Sept. 8.

“We play one game at home in the month of September,” Frazier said. “But I know from our standpoint we can’t get caught up in the schedule. We have to play every game one game at a time. We have absolutely no control over the schedule. But we’ll be ready when the time comes.”

The Vikings will travel to Chicago in Week 2. They are a combined 1-5 at Soldier Field and Ford Field in the past three seasons, with their lone victory coming last year when they won 20-13 at Detroit. The Vikings haven’t won in Chicago since 2007.

The team will follow those two road games with a home game against the Cleveland Browns, probably the lone time they will be favored over the first four weeks, and then a so-called home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers in London on Sept. 29.

So the Vikings are going to have to find a way to win on the road against Detroit or Chicago if they want a good chance at being .500 heading into their bye in Week 5.

Financing OK

With all of the talk about the ability of the Wilf Family to be in a position to come up with the $477 million that is their share of the cost of the new Vikings stadium, what about the state’s ability to pay its share with the electronic pulltabs not selling? The Legislature had passed the measure allowing bars and restaurants to use the new electronic devices as a way to raise funds for the stadium, but when that didn’t work out new taxes were levied.

“We’ve reset the financing so we’re not depending on any money from the E-pull tabs or the electronic bingo,” said Gov. Mark Dayton. “The reserve has now been replenished with this one month of the tobacco tax going to the higher tax and then closing corporate loopholes, and that will be $20 million a year. The commissioner of revenue feels it’s very secure, so I think the financing is taken care of.”

Jottings

• One reason the Gophers had more fans than expected Thursday night [44,217] is that the Aspire Company of Atlanta has done a good job selling tickets, with the company getting 10 percent from what it sells. According to David Benedict of the Gophers athletic department, Aspire has generated, to date, more than $2 million in ticket sales. Its goal last year was $1.4 million in sales. At this point only 3,000 student season tickets are sold, but most of those tickets are sold when classes start, which happens next week.

• Lourawls Nairn Jr., a point guard from Wichita, Kan., was in the Twin Cities for an official visit with Richard Pitino and attended the Gophers football game on Thursday. Nairn is ranked as the 61st player in the country for the class of 2014 and has offers from Kansas and Kansas State, but his final three school choices are Indiana, Oklahoma and the Gophers.

• Jon Hoese, former Gophers fullback, was waived by the Oakland Raiders this week after being picked up by the team following his release from Green Bay. Meanwhile MarQueis Gray, the former Gophers quarterback who is now a tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, survived the first round of cuts. Gray has one reception for 13 yards through three games.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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