Sid Hartman: Mason likes Gophers defense but wants more from Gray

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2012 - 1:33 AM

Former coach-turned-TV analyst Glen Mason liked what he saw out of the Gophers defensive line in rushing the passer.

Glen Mason, the former Gophers football coach who did the color commentary on the Big Ten Network's telecast of the Maroon and Gold's 44-7 victory over New Hampshire on Saturday, liked what he saw out of the defensive line in rushing the passer, a big weakness for the team last year.

"I was impressed with the job that [defensive coordinator] Tracy Claeys and their defense did against New Hampshire's offense," Mason said. "I watched them on film. They're very difficult to defend. The tempo. All the plays that they do. He got them lined up right. They made big plays. They didn't give up any big plays.

"... Typically, that's what New Hampshire will do. They'll get you driving and get you back on their heels. They did that one drive and that was it."

The Gophers have been picked to finish last in their division, but Mason said he wouldn't be surprised if they surprised some teams.

"Sure they can. And I say that because they're getting better defensively," Mason said. "They have a really good defensive line. [D.L.] Wilhite impresses me. [Ra'Shede] Hageman impresses me. They've got three good corners now. I think [Michael] Carter is playing well. [Troy] Stoudermire is good. The [Martez] Shabazz kid, I thought, played really well today. The safeties are good tacklers. So, if you've got that mix on defense, if you can play good defense in the Big Ten Conference, and you've got that type of skilled player in MarQueis Gray that can give you fits, you can compete with anybody."

Last year, the Gophers had one sack in their four nonconference games. Now in two games this season, they have six.

A week after missing a number of open passes at UNLV, Gophers quarterback Gray completed six of eight passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns Saturday while rushing 17 times for 109 yards and two more scores. But Mason wasn't particularly impressed with Gray's passing.

"You know MarQueis Gray is an exceptional athlete," Mason said. "I watched him practice Tuesday, I was really impressed with how he threw the ball in practice, not so much impressed today. For them to accomplish the things that Jerry Kill wants to accomplish in his second year, let's face it, he has got to be a better passer."

Commenting further on Gray, Mason said: "He's an exceptional athlete. I mean, let's face it. I mean, he's a guy, that, when I was coaching, would scare the heck out of me because he can take a bad play and turn it into a great play. He's 245 pounds, 250 pounds. If you get him in the open, no one catches him. He's a tremendous athlete."

Watch out for Western Michigan

Mason said the Gophers can't overlook Western Michigan, next week's opponent at TCF Bank Stadium.

"[The Gophers are] off to the right start and they're going to build some momentum. Build some confidence," he said. "They're 2-0. Can't be any better start than that. Let's not look past Western Michigan next week. A Mid-American foe. Jerry knows all about those guys [from coaching at Northern Illinois]. And if they're successful there, then play Syracuse, a team they'll match well with. If they start undefeated going into Big Ten play against Iowa, that's as good as can be.

"I think it's a work in progress. I think it's better than last year. They're still young. They're not near as consistent. They can't rely on Gray just running the football. They've got some good running backs. But the greatest running back in the world, without a good offensive line blocking, is not worth a darn, the line's got to block better.

"I think it's critical, though, that you win the games that you should win. They should have beaten UNLV, they beat them. They should have beaten this outfit today, they beat them. They should win next week. They should beat Syracuse at home. If you do that and get in Big Ten play, anything can happen."

Vikings offense ready

Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is very high on quarterback Christian Ponder and looks for the 2011 first-round draft pick to lead the team to an opening victory over Jacksonville and to do well the rest of the season.

"Yes we've had a good preseason with Christian, a good offseason," Musgrave said. "Our entire offense is ready to really make some strides from where we were in 2011."

In fact, Musgrave, who coached outstanding quarterback Matt Ryan at Atlanta for three years before joining the Vikings last year, said Ponder can do some things better than Ryan.

"Both of them are very sharp. Christian can run faster and throw it farther than Matt, Matt is a little bit taller, but they both are tremendous leaders," Musgrave said.

And Musgrave likes what he sees from third-team quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, whom the Vikings decided to keep instead of veteran Sage Rosenfels.

"He's got a good future ahead of him," Musgrave said. "He has some developing to do, like our whole team does. He's a good athlete, has good movement, smart, can process things he sees, and he has a good strong arm. He can throw it all over the field."

Jottings

• Forbes Magazine wrote that the new Vikings stadium made the team 22 percent more valuable, up to $975 million, still ranking 22nd in the NFL. The Vikings rank near the bottom of the league in stadium revenue ($7.2 million last year), but the new building could generate another $40 million a year.

 The turf at the new Siebert Field will be put down next week, and Gophers baseball coach John Anderson hopes to hold his first practice there Oct. 1. The ballpark will be completed by next spring, but the Gophers will play 20 games in the Metrodome after opening the season at UCLA on Feb. 15. The Dome games include three with national power Texas on March 22-24.

• Recently released quarterback Sage Rosenfels had a two-year contract with the Vikings calling for $1.5 million. The Vikings had to pay Rosenfels the $500,000 that they guaranteed him.

• Twins first-round pick Byron Buxton struggled out of the gate in the Gulf Coast League because of injuries, hitting only .216 with 14 RBI and 17 runs in 27 games. But the outfielder finished the season better after being promoted to Elizabethton, hitting .286 over 21 games with 16 runs and six RBI to end his first minor league season.

• Former Gophers hockey standout Rob McClanahan was named one of the coaches for the first CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects game on Sept. 29 in Buffalo, N.Y. McClanahan, who is now a businessman in Minneapolis, scored the winning goal in Team USA's gold medal victory over Finland in the 1980 Winter Olympics. South St. Paul's Phil Housley will serve as the other coach.

 Former Gophers coach Tim Brewster has seen good results so far as receivers coach at Mississippi State. In beating Auburn on Saturday, the Bulldogs threw for 222 yards, with wide receivers catching 11 passes for 142 yards.

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  • Gophers safety Brock Vereen, left, and defensive end D.L. Wilhite celebrated following a New Hampshire turnover Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Vereen had four tackles and Wilhite had five, including 1½ sacks, along with a forced fumble.

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