Hartman: Gophers have plenty of room to improve

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 12:31 AM

The former Gophers coach said Jerry Kill’s team did not perform as well as the score indicated.

Glen Mason, the former Gophers coach who worked their 42-20 victory over Eastern Illinois for the Big Ten Network, didn’t think current maroon and gold coach Jerry Kill would be very happy with the performance of his team despite the score.

“They’re going to win some games; patience is the key right now,” Mason said. “Jerry Kill will be very happy about the outcome, the score, of this game. But when he gets in the film room, he won’t be very happy with the offense, with the down-the-line defensive guys, but he’ll go back to work. Most coaches say you have to look for the biggest amount of improvement between Game 1 and Game 2. They better improve because after that they make the trip down to TCU.”

It was pretty obvious that Eastern Illinois self-destructed with turnovers, Mason said.

“They had some center-quarterback exchange problems early. I thought the Gopher defense played well, you have to remember that this Eastern Illinois offense scored almost 50 points a game. They move the ball up and down on just about everybody,” he said. “Initially they moved the ball against the Gopher defense. Tracy Claeys, the Gophers defensive coordinator, I thought made some nice adjustments. The final score is not really indicative of the game. Down-the-line guys gave up some late touchdowns.”

Mason said he thought Mitch Leidner played OK in his first game as the sole No. 1 quarterback for the Gophers.

“Most people view him as a returning quarterback. He had two starts last year but only 180 total plays,” Mason said. “I would grade him as an average performance. We know he can run the football. He has to make better decisions in the passing game. I thought he threw a number of passes into coverage that he got away with.”

On Berkley Edwards, the redshirt freshman running back who had four carries for 60 yards and two touchdowns: “Berkley Edwards is a guy that I have personally been hearing about for years. He has great top-end speed. One thing that the Gophers need on offense is they need some explosive plays, they need some big plays. They didn’t have very many of those last year, one of the reasons why they finished so low in the standings in the Big Ten Conference. He obviously has big-play potential.”

One statistic Kill certainly won’t be happy with is that after three quarters Eastern Illinois had run 64 plays for 248 yards and 16 first downs, compared to 43 plays for 207 yards and 10 first downs for the Gophers.

That’s something the coach will talk about as they get ready for next week.

Smith ready to go

Vikings free safety Harrison Smith missed eight games in the middle of last season because of a turf toe injury that nearly required surgery. Smith returned and played well late in the season, and he said he is ready for a new year.

“I played the last three games last year and I felt good,” he said. “Since then, I have just gotten stronger and my foot is 100 percent and I’m ready to go.”

Smith, a first-round draft pick out of Notre Dame in 2012, had a breakout rookie season, recording 104 tackles, three interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. In his injury-shortened 2013 season he had 58 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble.

But now he is working with an entirely new defensive coaching staff and scheme.

“You know, every coach’s defense is going to be different in terminology, details here and there,” Smith said. “I’m just trying to learn what the coaches want us to do right now and just fit into the scheme and do my job.

“So far it has been great working with [defensive coordinator George] Edwards, coach [Mike] Zimmer is over there as well, working with [defensive backs coach Jerry] Gray and [assistant defensive backs coach Jonathan] Gannon in the secondary.”

Smith, who sat out Thursday’s 19-3 victory at Tennessee, said he likes the way the coaches are approaching secondary coverage.

“They definitely like to eliminate space with the defenders and the offense,” he said. “So whether it’s zone or man-to-man, we’re trying to eliminate space and compete for the ball.”

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