Two of the most productive Gophers in their 58-28 victory over Indiana State on Saturday — quarterback Mitch Leidner, who completed 20 of 30 passes for four touchdowns, and wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, who caught eight passes for 125 yards and two TDs — admitted the team will have to play a lot better in the future than it did in beating two very ordinary opponents if the Gophers are to finish better than their 5-7 record of 2015.
The 58 points were their most in nearly a decade; they last eclipsed 50 points in a 51-14 rout of Iowa in November 2014. But the Gophers, after letting Oregon State pass for 228 yards in the season opener, allowed Indiana State to throw for 247 yards and four touchdowns Saturday, and that’s not the kind of passing defense that will win many games. The Sycamores were ranked 59th in FCS in passing yards a year ago at 204.6 yards per game.
The Gophers have a bye this week before facing a stiffer test in Colorado State. And that’s it for nonconference play. Iowa comes to town for the Big Ten opener, and only then will we know how good this football team is.
The Gophers did unveil a potential new star at running back in Kobe McCrary, a transfer from Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., who rushed only twice for 4 yards against Oregon State. On Saturday, the Chipley, Fla., native rushed 17 times for 176 yards, including one great run for 50 yards. In comparison, Indiana State rushed for only 109 yards as a team, on 33 attempts.
McCrary enrolled at Minnesota even though he knew both Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, and thus was aware his opportunities might be limited behind the pair. “I feel like I can bring some depth with all three of us — the three-headed monster,” McCrary said.
Asked if he ever matched his performance Saturday, McCrary brought up a junior college performance against the No. 1 team in the country. His No. 3 Butler team won at top-ranked Coffeyville 42-39 last Oct. 17 behind McCrary’s 249 rushing yards.
Parcells on Zimmer
Bill Parcells is not only one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time — the lone man to take four different teams to the playoffs and a two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants — but he is also at the head of one of the great coaching trees in the history of sports.
Parcells was a mentor for a number of coaches, most notably Super Bowl winners Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton, and of course Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and their offensive line coach, Tony Sparano, who was the Miami Dolphins head coach for four seasons.
Zimmer and Sparano both worked with Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys, and Zimmer counts Parcells as perhaps his closest adviser.
I have known Parcells for many years, after meeting him through my close, personal friend Bob Knight.
Still, I wanted to know from Parcells what he thought of Zimmer as a head coach and why he’s found such quick success in Minnesota.
“As a head coach, you know, I think he’s very dedicated and he’s very honest and I think that the players understand, he doesn’t leave anything to question,” Parcells said. “But you know this is not a good time of year to be talking about how great guys are. It’s a new year and everybody is starting over.
“The Vikings, I will be pulling for them, and they have a lot to prove. I think they look like they’re on the right track, that’s the best I can say for them.”
I asked Parcells what his impression of Zimmer was as a younger coach.
“I always liked Mike, you know that,” he said. “I said that when they hired him. But you know [the Vikings] still have a ways to go, so we’ll see.”
When Zimmer was hired, he said Parcells used to give him notes on being a head coach, for whenever Zimmer eventually took over a staff of his own.
He said any head coach has to remember these things: Your best friends will disappoint you; four or five things will happen every day in pro football you wish wouldn’t happen, and if you can’t handle those you need to get another job, and being a head coach is lonely.
That advice seems especially worthwhile to Zimmer now as he gets ready to take on a Vikings season both with extremely high expectations and also a rash of uncertainty following the loss of starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater before a single regular-season snap.
Worked well in Dallas
When Zimmer hired Sparano, it was clear he was trying to shake up an offensive line that he felt wasn’t protecting the quarterback well enough.
The team then went out and signed a number of players to add depth, and many people believe that even with Bridgewater out, the new line will see great improvement this season.
Parcells was asked for his memories of working with Zimmer and Sparano.
“I like both of those fellas,” he said. “They both worked really well as assistant coaches when I had them. I liked both of them, so apparently Mike saw something in Tony that he liked.”
• There are nine Gophers on NFL active rosters, with the Jets’ Eric Decker and the Vikings' Marcus Sherels the only ones not to play under Jerry Kill. Briean Boddy-Calhoun is with Cleveland, De’Vondre Campbell and Ra’Shede Hageman with Atlanta, MarQueis Gray with Miami, Eric Murray with Kansas City, Maxx Williams with Baltimore and Damien Wilson with Dallas.
• If you were watching the Notre Dame/Texas game last Sunday, you saw young Irish receiver Torii Hunter Jr., son of the former Twins star, lying on the field appearing to be knocked out after a helmet-to-helmet hit, and then you saw his family members and the concern on their faces. Hunter Jr. suffered a concussion but fortunately no more serious injury to his neck or back. Hunter Jr. was playing well with four receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown when he was hurt, and the injury kept him sidelined for Notre Dame’s game Saturday against Nevada, too.
• Wabissa Bede, considered by ESPN the 87th-best boys’ basketball player in the class of 2017 and the 17th-best point guard in the country, recently narrowed his recruit list to five schools. and the Gophers made the cut along with Butler, La Salle, UMass and Virginia Tech. Bede plays at Cushing Academy in Massachusetts.
• Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns got a chance to meet the greatest swimmer of all time this past week when he did a promotional video game event with 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps along with retired Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch.
• It’s been a long time since Minneapolis North High School sent a superstar football player to Minnesota. That kid might be Tyler Johnson, who has attracted attention at wide receiver and might be in the same class as North products such as Bob Bjorklund, Sid Gillman, George Faust and Wayne Robinson, or a more recent example in basketball, Khalid El-Amin.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org