Playing for 'high steaks,' U shows off its progress

  • Article by: MICHAEL RAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 22, 2012 - 9:57 AM

The Maroon squad's victory means it will eat well, but the day's tone is of improvement.

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In the grand scheme of things, Saturday's spring game was less of a real contest and more of a culmination of what the Gophers football team -- coaches and players -- have learned during the past several weeks of practice.

Teammates became opponents, and the Maroon team officially claimed a 3-0 victory over the Gold team before an announced crowd of 3,512 on an overcast day at TCF Bank Stadium. It was mostly a chance for players to make one final early impression, for jittery youngsters to get their feet wet and for coaches to evaluate depth.

"We got a chance to see everyone on the field, and we got out of it healthy," head coach Jerry Kill said. "So that's the biggest thing."

Winning was nice, to be sure. But the biggest thing at stake, wide receiver Brandon Green said, might have been steak.

Green, who had a game-high 59 yards receiving for the victorious Maroon team, was asked if one Chris Hawthorne field goal was really enough for bragging rights.

"The other team would probably say it's not, but we're eating steak tonight, and they're eating beans," Green said, referring to the postgame meal arrangement for the winners and losers. "That's true. Steak or pork chops. That was the deal."

That led to some good-natured trash talk in the midst of a sometimes-sloppy game that nonetheless showcased areas in which the Gophers have made strides since a 3-9 season in 2011.

Incumbent starter MarQueis Gray was the sharpest of four quarterbacks who saw official action, completing four of eight passes for 62 yards -- including a 35-yard strike over the middle to Green after the receiver made a nice double move to get open.

"I feel pretty good. I feel like I did a lot better than last year, taking control and being a leader," Gray said of his spring as a whole. Of the team's passing game, he said, "Opposing defenses know I can run the ball, and they're going to have to load the box. It's my job to put the ball out there to receivers and their job to go out and get it."

Sophomore-to-be Max Shortell was 4-for-10 for 68 yards and ran for another 30, showing off noticeably more foot speed to go with overall comfort. Incoming freshmen Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner were a combined 0-for-8 for the Gold team.

Some of the youngsters' struggles can be attributed to a bigger and faster secondary. Gophers players on both sides of the ball were credited with a combined seven pass break-ups, and Kill praised his defensive backs afterward.

"We've got some guys in the secondary that can run, and we're getting a little bigger in the secondary, which we needed to continue to do," Kill said. "I can tell you just physically watching that that was better."

Sophomore defensive back Derrick Wells, who has put on 35 pounds in the offseason and is now listed at 6-0, 205, is among the players who also noticed the difference.

"The Big Ten is about size," said Wells, who had five tackles and a pass breakup. "We have speed and size."

But Wells played for the Gold team, which means he doesn't have one thing: steak.

"I'll probably talk trash," Green said when asked how he would flaunt his postgame meal to jealous Gold team members. "Maybe ask them if they want a little piece."

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