Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Gophers are back to running the ball with gusto

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: September 25, 2013 - 9:53 AM

The Gophers had 11 rushers surpass 1,000 yards in the eight seasons from 1999 through 2006. The lowest total to lead the team in rushing in that time was Tellis Redmon's 1,091 yards in 2001. Minnesota was the first team in the history of major college football to have three consecutive seasons with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers (2003-05).

You can't watch the 2013 Gophers and the manner in which they have muscled through four non-conference opponents without being reminded of Minnesota's ability to run the ball with Mason.

OK, maybe you can, but I can't. And thus inspired, I called Mason this week for a column that will appear in Thursday's print edition -- the theme being, Gophers' running attacks, then and now.

Mason's Gophers usually had the quarterback under center. They ran from multiple formations without having all that many running plays. It was based on zone blocking ... getting mobile linemen to the point of attack for double teams.

Jerry Kill has the quarterback in a shotgun formation with a running back nearby. The QB either hands off or keeps the ball, based on his read of the defensive end

The Spread. The Read Option. Those are the working terms.

"Joe Tiller at Purdue brought the spread to the Big Ten, but as a passing offense,'' Mason said. "Randy Walker, the late Randy Walker, had gone down to Tulane, to see what Tommy Bowden and his offensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez, were doing with a running quarterback out of the spread.

"Randy was hired at Northwestern for 1999 and found out in a hurry he was going to need something different to compete, so he stole that spread with a running quarterback from Tulane. That's how the spread got to the Big Ten ... first Tiller, then Walker.''

My conversation with Mason included this lament:

"I still kick myself for not coming up with the 'Pistol' offense for Bryan Cupito,'' he said. "I recall saying numerous times to my coaches, 'We should be in the shotgun more with Cupito,' and the answer would be, 'Yes, but then we lose that downhill running.'

"The Pistol gives you both ... with the quarterback set in front, and the running back still coming downhill from seven yards deep. When Chris Ault started running the Pistol at Nevada, I said, 'That's it. Cupito, the way he could throw and make quick decisions, would've been outstanding in that formation.' ''

Mason also repeated his opinion that Adam Weber, a redshirt freshman in 2006 (the season after which Mason was fired), would have been a sensational quarterback in the offense the Gophers had carved out in the Mason Era.

"We were recruiting him and Adam said, 'Some teams are talking to me about playing another position rather than quarterback,' '' Mason said. "I said, 'No chance. You're the answer to what we're looking for. You can take our offense to the next level.' ''

The Gophers' big rushing totals with Mason were followed by these team leaders in Tim Brewster's time on the job:

2007-Weber, 617 yards. 2008-DeLeon Eskridge, 678. 2009-Duane Bennett, 376. 20-10-Eskridge-650.

Brewster went from wanting the spread as a pass-heavy offense in 2007-08, to more of a power game in 2009 and to his firing seven games into 2010. There was never a commitment, which Kill definitely has with his run-heavy version of the spread.

MarQueis Gray led the Gophers with 966 rushing yards and Duane Bennett added 639 in 2011. Donnell Kirkwood had 958 yards in 2012. Through four games of 2013, the Gophers have rushed 197 times and are averaging 282 yards per game, compared to a total of 62 passes and 105 yards per game.

Kirkwood has been hurt, but the two other running backs, David Cobb and Rodrick Williams Jr., and two quarterbacks, Mitch Leidner and Philip Nelson, have between 341 yards and 255 yards.

Just like old times when it comes to running the ball ... meaning, pre-Brewster.


 

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