It was football in the sunshine, but this wasn’t the Citrus Bowl, and this wasn’t the same offense the Gophers fielded Jan. 1, either.
The team moved Saturday morning’s scrimmage to TCF Bank Stadium and drew several hundred spectators, including many who stopped over from the nearby Minnesota Football Coaches Association clinic.
The fans saw a Gophers defense that could be even better than last year, but that has made things tough for the offense through eight spring practices. The Gophers are also experimenting with a no-huddle offense, adding to the growing pains.
For now, it looks like the Gophers have enough tailback depth to replace David Cobb, but they’re clearly going to miss tight end Maxx Williams.
And the offensive line has become another concern, as they try to replace departing seniors Zac Epping and Tommy Olson.
Leidner got sacked three times in five drives Saturday. In one sequence, defensive end Hank Ekpe sped around the right end to pressure Leidner into a short throw. Then, on fourth-and-3, Briean Boddy-Calhoun breezed around the left end for a sack on the cornerback blitz.
Leidner completed five of 10 passes for 36 yards, totals that would have looked better if KJ Maye and Drew Wolitarsky hadn’t each dropped a pass.
Senior tailback Rodrick Williams had a strong first drive for the Gophers, breaking free on a 20-yard run. He watched the rest of the scrimmage, as the coaches gave long looks to Rodney Smith, Berkley Edwards and Jeff Jones.
Smith rushed 10 times for 34 yards with one fumble. Another low point for the offensive line came when coach Jerry Kill pinned the offense at its own 5-yard line. Smith got stuffed for two 1-yard gains before Leidner had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage for a three-and-out.
Edwards delivered the day’s biggest highlight with a 67-yard run against the second-team defense. The speedy sophomore added four more carries for 15 yards.
Jones saw action at slot receiver and tailback. He had six carries for 28 yards, including one play where he made a quick cut at the line of scrimmage and dashed around the right end for 12 yards.
Backup quarterback Chris Streveler completed eight of 11 passes. He had the benefit of mostly working against the second-team defense, and made plays with his legs and improving arm.
On Streveler’s first drive, redshirt freshman receiver Isaiah Gentry beat speedy cornerback Craig James on a post route. Streveler led him perfectly with a long, rainbow throw. The ball hit Gentry in the hands — but bounced backward — right to James, for an interception.
Defensively, the Gophers have looked good all spring. Linebacker Jack Lynn had two interceptions for touchdowns in Thursday’s practice. Cody Poock, another linebacker who has recovered from knee surgery, has made plays all over the field.
Boddy-Calhoun and fellow cornerback Eric Murray have given up next to nothing against the receivers.
The Gophers coaches and players weren’t available to the media Saturday, so it’s tough to know exactly what they thought of the scrimmage. They still have two weeks to get ready for the April 11 spring game, but the offense looks like it’ll be a work in progress long after that.
Joe Christensen firstname.lastname@example.org