As season opens, Gophers seek offensive playmakers

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 28, 2014 - 9:28 AM

In his quest to become a better playmaker, Gophers wide receiver Donovahn Jones sidled up to one of the NFL’s best. Larry Fitzgerald was on campus this summer, running his annual camp, so Jones introduced himself and soaked up all the wisdom he could.

Fitzgerald’s advice?

“There’s nothing really stopping me from getting there besides me,” Jones said.

In other words, the talent is there if he can just find a way to maximize it. And therein lies the hope for Jones and several other key skill-position players much like him, as the Gophers open a new season Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium.

The opponent is Eastern Illinois, a team that went 12-2 last year and defeated San Diego State. But the Panthers are from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), so this should be an offensive showcase for the Gophers.

They did plenty of soul searching this offseason after going 13 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown late last season. They met with consultants, studied hundreds of hours of film, re-evaluated their schemes, added strength and speed, and practiced and practiced.

An offense that had been so integral to the team’s 8-2 start was the main culprit in the 0-3 finish against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Syracuse. The touchdown drought was even more exasperating for the Gophers because they kept reaching the red zone, kept getting chances to make plays and kept coming up short.

“The way I look at our offense right now, it’s like the Cheez-It commercial,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. “You’ve got a doctor sitting there. He’s got the two spots [on his checklist] — ready or not ready. We’ve been kind of in that not-ready category.

“When those plays presented themselves — there weren’t a whole lot of them — but when they did, we didn’t take advantage. So instead of losing to Michigan State 14-3, we’ve got to find a way to make that a 17-14 game this year.”

One drive that summarized the drought can be found early in the fourth quarter of the Michigan State game, when the Gophers drove 77 yards on 17 plays. They had first-and-10 on the Spartans’ 11-yard line, but David Cobb was stuffed twice for no gain, and then Mitch Leidner was sacked and fumbled.

The ending to that sequence could have been prevented if someone, somewhere in the middle of that nine-minute, 21-second drive had broken a big one.

For the season, the Gophers ranked 100th out of 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with only 19 plays that gained at least 30 yards.

They hit too many opposite-field singles. They needed more home runs.

This year, they have strong depth at running back, with the speedy Berkley Edwards ready to enter the mix. They have a veteran offensive line that got beat up during training camp. They have a respected leader at quarterback, in Leidner, who just needs to overcome his inexperience. And they are loaded with tight ends with the hope of getting more from their wide receivers.

Will this offense be more explosive? Here are seven guys who hold the key:

Mitch Leidner

Sophomore QB

The stat: Of Leidner’s 78 passes last year, only two went for 30-plus-yard gains.

  • related content

  • Read the replay: Gophers football Live Chat with Joe Christensen

    Wednesday August 28, 2013

    See what college football writer Joe Christensen was talking about with Gophers fans during Thursday afternoon's Live Chat.

  • Reusse: Defense is the difference with these Gophers

    Thursday August 28, 2014

    Jerry Kill’s fourth season starts Thursday against Eastern Illinois. There is hope Kill can be the leader to turn defense into an asset rather than this program’s mark of futility.

  • Big Ten football openers

    Wednesday August 27, 2014

    Big Ten Opening gamesFrom the Pacific Northwest to Dublin, Ireland — against powerhouses and directional schools — the 14 Big...

  • Gophers could have several playmakers on defense

    Thursday August 28, 2014

    The Gophers need more offensive playmakers, but don’t forget about their defense.The much-improved unit ranked 25th in the nation in...

  • The Call: Gophers vs. Eastern Illinois

    Thursday August 28, 2014

    6 p.m., TCF Bank Stadium • TV: Big Ten Net. • Radio: 107.9-FMLine: No line (FCS opponent) • Series: First meetingBy...

  • Star Tribune and Associated Press file photos • Star Tribune illustration

  • Receiver Drew Wolitarsky will try to build off a solid showing in the Texas Bowl, in which he caught four passes for 98 yards.

  • Berkley Edwards ran with the ball during practice. ] (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE) kyndell.harkness@startribune.com Gophers practice in Minneapolis, Min. Wednesday, August, 6, 2014.

  • Gophers season opener

    6 p.m. today vs. Eastern Illinois TCF Bank Stadium • BTN (107.9-FM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 17 FINAL
New England 9
Cleveland 10 FINAL
Baltimore 20
Dallas 44 FINAL
Washington 17
Indianapolis 27 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 FINAL
Houston 23
San Diego 7 FINAL
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 37 FINAL
Miami 24
Chicago 9 FINAL
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 34 FINAL
NY Giants 26
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 34 FINAL
Atlanta 3
Detroit 20 FINAL
Green Bay 30
Oakland 14 FINAL
Denver 47
Arizona 17 FINAL
San Francisco 20
St. Louis 6 FINAL
Seattle 20
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Pittsburgh 27
Arizona 1/3/15 3:35 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 1/3/15 7:15 PM
Pittsburgh
Detroit 103 FINAL
Cleveland 80
Houston 106 FINAL
San Antonio 110
Oklahoma City 107 FINAL
Dallas 112
New York 79 FINAL
Portland 101
Toronto 116 FINAL
Denver 102
Phoenix 116 FINAL
LA Lakers 107
Toronto 4 FINAL
Florida 6
Vancouver 1 FINAL(OT)
Anaheim 2
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 48 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Iona 81 FINAL
Drexel 62
Concordia (MI) 42 FINAL
Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 46 FINAL
Arizona State 56
Longwood 64 FINAL
Ball State 69
Sacred Heart 76 FINAL
Brown 79
Colgate 64 FINAL
Columbia 69
MD-Eastern Shore 78 FINAL
Duquesne 69
UNC Greensboro 50 FINAL
East Carolina 71
Marist 64 FINAL
Elon 69
NJIT 71 FINAL
Lafayette 76
Cincinnati Christian 58 FINAL
Liberty 78
Morgan State 53 FINAL
Marquette 81
Campbell 56 FINAL
Samford 65
Bucknell 71 FINAL
Siena 73
Long Beach State 67 FINAL
Syracuse 85
Coppin State 80 FINAL
Evansville 85
UMKC 73 FINAL
Indiana State 70
Hofstra 88 FINAL
Long Island 62
Coast Guard 48 FINAL
Army 93
Thomas (GA) 48 FINAL
High Point 85
Texas Southern 58 FINAL
Kansas State 56
Rutgers 59 FINAL
Monmouth 58
NC Wesleyan 54 FINAL
NC A&T 58
South Dakota St 63 FINAL
Northern Iowa 74
Central Penn College 69 FINAL
Radford 119
Bowling Green 79 FINAL
South Florida 70
Harris-Stowe 66 FINAL
SE Missouri St 94
Robert Morris-IL 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 104
Northland College 59 FINAL
North Dakota St 83
Milwaukee 60 FINAL
South Dakota 84
Northwestern St 92 FINAL
Arkansas 100
Saint Peters 59 FINAL
Cornell 52
St Katherine 62 FINAL
Fresno State 93
Haskell 42 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Wake Forest 65 FINAL
Richmond 63
Fla Gulf Coast 57 FINAL
Xavier 71
SD Christian 45 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Judson 46 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 80
Ill-Chicago 60 FINAL
Bradley 68
Loyola-Maryland 61 FINAL
Fairfield 59
Miss Valley St 53 FINAL
Houston 80
Lehigh 58 FINAL
UMBC 55
Delaware State 56 FINAL
Temple 66
Belmont 56 FINAL
Butler 67
Howard 59 FINAL
Fordham 74
NW Christian 67 FINAL
Nevada 81
UC Davis 83 FINAL
Washington St 90
Abilene Christian 81 FINAL
Grand Canyon 83
UCLA 50 FINAL
Alabama 56
Stony Brook 62 FINAL
Washington 57
Buffalo 56 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
CS-Bakersfield 55 FINAL
California 52
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
St Francis-PA 59 FINAL
Pittsburgh 97
Milwaukee 72 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 78
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Longwood 63
New Hampshire 58 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Bucknell 68 FINAL
Binghamton 57
Northeastern 70 FINAL
Albany 67
George Mason 70 FINAL
Towson 72
Richmond 59 FINAL
William & Mary 56
Tulane 60 FINAL
Cincinnati 50
North Florida 51 FINAL
Florida 63
(14) Georgia 51 FINAL
Seton Hall 70
Tennessee St 75 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 87
American Univ 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 77
Massachusetts 78 FINAL
Boston U 57
Quinnipiac 69 FINAL
Saint Josephs 67
Lafayette 49 FINAL
Saint Peters 34
Northwestern 61 FINAL
(20) Michigan State 57
Duquesne 82 FINAL
Lehigh 75
George Washington 72 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 49
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Indiana 51
(24) Green Bay 66 FINAL
Dayton 72
Western Mich 55 FINAL
Stony Brook 59
Davidson 67 FINAL
Virginia 57
UNC Greensboro 61 FINAL
LSU 82
Denver 63 FINAL
North Texas 55
VA Commonwealth 63 FINAL
Coppin State 52
Huston-Tillotson 36 FINAL
Houston Baptist 86
Lamar 63 FINAL
Rice 97
Miss Valley St 40 FINAL
Alabama 71
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 49
Middle Tennessee 98 FINAL
Tenn Tech 76
Penn State 52 FINAL
(23) Iowa 77
Purdue 62 FINAL
Illinois 55
DePaul 99 FINAL
Illinois State 62
Sam Houston St 46 FINAL
Wichita State 70
South Dakota 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
(4) Notre Dame 82 FINAL
UCLA 67
Coll of Charleston 51 FINAL
SC State 60
Alcorn State 53 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 63
Dartmouth 76 FINAL
Niagara 70
Colgate 68 FINAL
Siena 80
Michigan 53 FINAL
Wisconsin 63
Fla Gulf Coast 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 64
Yale 51 FINAL
(25) Arizona State 69
UC Santa Barbara 34 FINAL
(16) Stanford 90
Long Island 63 FINAL
Long Beach St 71
Jackson State 56 FINAL
Louisiana 65
Eureka 50 FINAL
Western Ill 91
Cornell 59 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 76
Temple 58 FINAL
Memphis 57
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: What's your favorite Gophers football uniform colors?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close