Hartman: Former coach Mason says Gophers still have work to do

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

The former U coach was impressed with quarterback Philip Nelson, but Minnesota struggled in the first half.

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.”

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