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Gophers running back Berkley Edwards is watched by linebacker Everett Williams. The defense has dominated in preseason camp so far.

KYNDELL HARKNESS • kyndell.harkness@startribune.com,

Gophers football scrimmage

When: Saturday, 4:40 p.m.

Where: TCF Bank Stadium

Admission: Free

Note: This will be the team’s last session in public before the Aug. 28 season opener against Eastern Illinois.

Gophers offense struggling against U's tough defense

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • August 9, 2014 - 9:01 AM

 

Matt Limegrover wants the Gophers offense to build momentum for the Aug. 28 opener against Eastern Illinois, but there’s been one constant challenge during training camp: the Gophers defense.

The Gophers will scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, and Limegrover, the offensive coordinator, hopes to see more progress than he did earlier this week.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Limegrover said. “The great thing about it is, we’re struggling a little bit right now, but I think that has a lot to do with the guys we’re going against. When [defensive ends] like Michael Amaefula and T.C. [Theiren Cockran] are coming off the edge — they’ve been a handful.”

The Gophers went 13 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown before Mitch Leidner threw two fourth-quarter TD passes in the Texas Bowl loss to Syracuse.

Spring practice was generally better, but Gophers fans who watched the spring game on April 12 couldn’t be sure, as the offense managed just one touchdown in 13 drives.

The coaches shrugged it off, knowing they had watered down the game plan, trying not to reveal too much on television for future opponents. The Gophers accomplished the bigger goal of keeping players healthy.

David Cobb returns, coming off a 1,202-yard rushing season, and redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards has given the offense a different dimension with his speed. Leidner and the first unit had several good moments during the first six August practices, which were open to the media.

But when the Gophers went “live” with full contact Wednesday, the results were familiar. The six drives led by Leidner and No. 2 quarterback Chris Streveler produced one touchdown, on a 28-yard pass from Streveler to Logan Hutton.

The defense allowed 22.2 points per game last year, ranking 25th in the nation. Five defensive starters graduated, including three players currently in NFL camps — Ra’Shede Hageman (Falcons), Brock Vereen (Bears) and Aaron Hill (Rams). But defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has said he will be disappointed if this year’s defense isn’t better.

Sophomore wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky said facing the Gophers defensive backs has helped his development.

“I think that we have one of the best secondaries in the league,” Wolitarsky said. “Our corners are outstanding. When I went out there [last year], I felt like our [defensive backs] were better than any team I faced.”

The Gophers have a veteran offensive line, but Limegrover lamented the pass blocking this week. “Not where we need to be, and we’ve got a ton of work to do,” he said. “It’ll be where we need to be when we start the season. Those guys up front know we’ve got to be better up front for us to be better throwing the football, and it’s been a priority.”

Jones one step closer

Prized recruit Jeff Jones posted a Facebook picture Friday, showing his letter of admission from the university.

That’s good news for the Gophers, but they are still awaiting word regarding Jones’ NCAA eligibility.

Jones was rated the nation’s No. 7 running back by Rivals.com but came just short of qualifying with his grades coming out of Minneapolis Washburn.

Jones has taken summer school, and soon the Gophers expect the NCAA to clear Jones or at least grant him an initial eligibility waiver. The waiver would allow him to use his scholarship, but he couldn’t play until 2015.

Now that Jones has been admitted to the U, he also has the option of going there even if the NCAA deems him ineligible.

In that scenario, he could use a school loan and work to become eligible for 2015. Jones also has the option of attending Iowa Western Community College.

At this point, even if the NCAA clears Jones to play this fall, he likely would redshirt with the Gophers. As coach Jerry Kill has said, the priority is making sure Jones is ready to play next year, after two of the team’s current running backs, Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood, have graduated.

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