Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He previously covered the Minnesota Vikings for four years, starting in 2008. In addition, he covered college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Every Tuesday I’ll post notes and short takes as the Gophers begin preparation for their next opponent. Here are a few things that caught my eye in the Gophers season-opener against Eastern Illinois:
Everyone plays fast
Eastern Illinois came out in no-huddle and ran 96 plays on offense. Jerry Kill said Tuesday that the Gophers will face seven teams that utilize a no-huddle offense this season.
Hurry-up offense has become the latest trend in college football. Teams run no-huddle and attempt to snap the ball as fast as possible to wear down defenses and maximize the number of plays per game.
That tempo puts stress on defenses in terms of conditioning and being able to substitute.
Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said he’s never had his defense huddle after plays so that mitigates tempo offenses to some degree.
In terms of substitutions, Claeys said that becomes tricky if the offense keeps the same personnel on the field or if a ball carrier goes out of bounds.
“The biggest thing is when they don't change personnel and go right to the line, it's hard to substitute people in for situations,” he said. “Basically whatever you have out there, you have to play with, unless the ball goes out of bounds next to your boundary.
“I thought [defensive line coach Jeff Phelps] did a great job of that, making sure we didn't substitute D‑line when the ball went out of bounds on the other side. Last year we got caught with 12 people on the field a couple times. It's weird, you have to pay attention where the ball goes out of bounds and where it's at before you end up substituting people.”
I’ve written about the Gophers secondary and that position has received a lot of attention. To me, the secondary is the team’s strongest position group.
But I also came away from the opener particularly impressed with their top two linebackers, Damien Wilson and De’Vondre Campbell. Those two are fast and really run to the ball.
“Damien and De'Vondre can really run,” Jerry Kill said. “They're long. Damien was measured by the NFL scouts, measured by how long his arms are and they are longer than Ra’Shede’s arms. When you have length, you can keep people from blocking you and you tackle better.”
Learn to slide
I admire Mitch Leidner’s toughness and his willingness to take on defenders physically when he’s carrying the ball. That said, Leidner has to be smarter about trying to run over defenders this season
.The Gophers can’t afford to lose Leidner to injury. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said he wants to limit designed runs for Leidner and the coaching staff constantly encourages him to recognize when it’s best to slide or get out of bounds.
“When you see a quarterback run, maybe slide before contact, run out of bounds, not get an extra yard or two, I think that's something that isn't in his DNA,” Limegrover said. “You've got to really work with him constantly on that, a bigger picture. No one is going to think less of you if you don't gain that extra yard, but you don't get hit by three defenders as well. Those extra three or four yards are minuscule in relation to him being out on the field for the next play, series, game.”
It’s not easy to change a player’s mentality. I asked Leidner what he will do if he’s in open field this Saturday with a safety running at him. Try and run over him, or slide?
“You can get injured just as bad sliding as you can taking a hit,” he said. “If you get your pad level down and take it on like you were taught all the way growing up, you should be fine.”
Leap of faith
Tight end Maxx Williams loved the picture of himself jumping over an Eastern Illinois defender on a catch and run. He’s not sure he will try that again though.
“I got lucky,” said Williams, who said he had a 33-inch vertical leap last time he was tested.
Williams said he’d never tried that move at any level. His instincts took over when he saw the defender go low for a tackle.
“It was either [going to be], ‘Wow that worked out good for me. Or wow, that really hurt and I shouldn’t do that anymore,” Williams said.