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

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Minnesota 94 FINAL
Philadelphia 103
Houston 93 FINAL
Boston 87
Portland 99 FINAL
Atlanta 105
Sacramento 90 FINAL
Cleveland 101
Toronto 127 FINAL
Brooklyn 122
Dallas 93 FINAL
Miami 72
LA Clippers 103 FINAL
New Orleans 108
Golden State 100 FINAL
Utah 110
Chicago 93 FINAL
Phoenix 99
Pittsburgh 2 FINAL(OT)
New Jersey 1
St. Louis 3 FINAL(SO)
Carolina 2
Nashville 0 FINAL
Colorado 3
Buffalo 2 FINAL
Vancouver 5
Chicago 4 FINAL
Anaheim 1
Harvard 75 FINAL
Princeton 72
Quinnipiac 57 FINAL
Canisius 63
Brown 49 FINAL
Cornell 57
Siena 79 FINAL
Manhattan 87
Marist 65 FINAL
Niagara 61
Dartmouth 51 FINAL
Penn 58
Oregon 68 FINAL
Arizona State 67
Yale 63 FINAL
Columbia 59
Monmouth 60 FINAL
Fairfield 59
IUPUI 59 FINAL
Western Ill 63
Oregon State 34 FINAL
Arizona 57
Kent State 55 FINAL
Buffalo 80
Canisius 75 FINAL
Monmouth 58
Butler 67 FINAL
Providence 59
Cornell 65 FINAL
Brown 52
Columbia 47 FINAL
Yale 55
Coll of Charleston 47 FINAL
Drexel 64
Penn 55 FINAL
Dartmouth 39
Elon 60 FINAL
James Madison 89
(19) Princeton 96 FINAL
Harvard 46
(9) Florida State 82 FINAL
Georgia Tech 62
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Siena 62
Richmond 54 FINAL
Rhode Island 50
Loyola-Chicago 58 FINAL
Southern Ill 64
Georgetown 52 FINAL
DePaul 93
Villanova 75 FINAL
Marquette 59
Wichita State 70 FINAL
Northern Iowa 51
Xavier 65 FINAL
Creighton 74
Bradley 58 FINAL
Illinois State 55
Missouri State 89 FINAL
Drake 94
Arizona 48 FINAL
Utah 62
(11) Arizona State 68 FINAL
Colorado 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which of these teams is the most frustrating to watch right now?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close