After playing 13 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown late last season, the Gophers would have loved to turn Saturday’s annual spring game into a scoring showcase.
Instead, it was more of the same.
Coach Jerry Kill rested the first-team defense because of injury concerns, yet the offense still managed just one touchdown and four field goals in 13 drives before an announced crowd of 4,752 at TCF Bank Stadium.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed because I like scoring touchdowns, and we’ve got to get that ball across [the goal line],” quarterback Mitch Leidner said.
“But at the same time, we learned a lot and we’re going to get better watching the film.”
Instead of dividing into two full teams, the Gophers held a 70-minute scrimmage pitting the offense against the defense.
Leidner led the first-team offense for six drives against the second-team defense, producing two field goals. He completed seven of 15 passes for 74 yards, with one interception and two sacks.
“I thought at times we put good drives together; we’ve just got to finish,” Leidner said. “And there were a couple times when me and the receivers have to get on the same page. But I mean, that’s why we’ve got however many months to work on that.”
The season opener is Aug. 28 against Eastern Illinois, and Leidner intends to spend countless hours working with his receivers before the start of camp Aug. 1. The coaching staff felt Leidner and the offense made strides all spring, even if it wasn’t fully evident Saturday.
“I always tell you, it doesn’t matter what happens spring game-wise; it’s the 15 practices all wrapped together,” quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski said. “Even the interception, [Leidner] made a great decision, and then it’s just a matter of him and Drew [Wolitarsky] being on the same page.”
Backup quarterback Chris Streveler led the second-team offense on three drives against the third-team defense, producing one field goal. He completed four of five passes for 44 yards.
The Gophers scored on both of quarterback Conor Rhoda’s drives, though he attempted just one pass. Running back Berkley Edwards and the offensive line did all the work on the lone touchdown drive of the day.
Starting at midfield, Edwards had runs of 9, 7 and 1 yard before getting the ball on a draw play, bursting toward the sideline and sprinting 33 yards for a touchdown.
“We can win a lot of games if he does that,” Kill said.
Edwards finished with 11 carries for 46 yards. David Cobb had seven carries for 29 yards, and Rodrick Williams led all rushers with nine carries for 52 yards.
The final two drives were a chance for Dimonic Roden- McKinzy, a true freshman quarterback who enrolled a semester early from Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan. The shortest of the team’s quarterbacks, at 6 feet, Roden-McKinzy completed five of his six passes for 46 yards, leading to one field goal.
“He’s got to work really hard with the 6-6 guys in front of him, just to find windows to throw through,” Zebrowski said.
“But he’s a very confident kid, has good feet, great pocket presence, knows when to get out of Dodge, and go.”
Good day for kickers
The Gophers went 4-for-5 on field goal attempts. Andrew Harte hit from 19 and 53 yards. Ryan Santoso hit a 46-yarder and missed from 51 yards.
Justin Juenemann added a 35-yarder.
The Gophers had six defensive linemen and three tight ends who did not play because of injury, but Kill said all should be ready to go by Aug. 1.
Starting defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli has a broken bone in his left foot but should be healed in five weeks, Kill said.
“The most important thing was, to my knowledge, we didn’t get anybody hurt [Saturday],” Kill said.
“And every coach in the country, when you have a spring game, you worry about that.”