No doubt Tracy Claeys went back to his office to view film of the Gophers’ 31-24 victory over Colorado State on Saturday, and the coach found that two defensive plays probably saved his team from at least overtime and potentially a loss, because the Gophers were unable to stop the visitors’ running game all day.
With less than four minutes to play and the ball at the 50-yard line, junior defensive lineman Steven Richardson made another big play in the Rams backfield, tackling running back Dalyn Dawkins for a 4-yard loss. Then Adekunle Ayinde made a deflection on a fourth-and-5 pass to give the Gophers the ball back with 1 minute, 50 seconds left, enabling them to run out the clock.
Claeys said that he was happy to leave TCF Bank Stadium with a victory but that the defense is far from where it needs to be to start Big Ten play next week.
“We’re grabbing a little bit and some injuries and things, but right before the half [the defense] saved us on the turnover, where Mitch [Leidner] threw the interception right before the half and was able to keep them from scoring any points,” Claeys said. “At the end, I mean really defensively, the [running] back hurt us. The passing game with the running back — we have to find a way to fix that. The screens hurt us and that one series there. The other thing was we can’t let them run for that many yards.
“Right now people are two-way going us a little bit, running and passing. We have to find a way where it’s a one-way go. We’re playing good enough to slow people down a little bit, but we’re not where we need to be going into the Big Ten.”
Colorado State finished with 369 yards of offense, including 158 on the ground. Removing the Gophers’ three sacks of quarterback Collin Hill, Colorado State gained 185 yards on 45 carries.
Gophers safety Damarius Travis made one of the key defensive plays in the game with an interception in the first quarter as Colorado State was driving for a touchdown.
After the interception, the Gophers drove 94 yards on 11 plays over 5:38 for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Travis, a fifth-year senior, echoed Claeys when he said that the defense is making some plays but still has a long way to go.
“We definitely have to get better,” Travis said. “We’re not where we want to be. We want to continue to practice and come out every week and just show people that we’re good. I’m pretty pleased on the defense, but we have a long way to go.”
If Penn State, the Gophers’ opponent next week, continues to struggle to run the ball — after Saturday’s loss to Michigan, the Nittany Lions are averaging only 101.3 yards on the ground per game — it would certainly be a big boost for the Gophers’ chances.
Leipold excited for Boudreau
It couldn’t have been an easy decision for the Wild to fire Mike Yeo, the winningest coach in team history, but owner Craig Leipold believes new coach Bruce Boudreau, who started his first training camp with the team this weekend, will bring an added dimension that can hopefully help the team finally reach the Stanley Cup Final.
What does Leipold think Boudreau brings to the team that Yeo didn’t?
“First of all, experience and a little credibility with our players,” Leipold said. “He’s a coach that has won his division title seven of the last eight years, so when Bruce is recommending a certain style of play or how to handle the power play or who is on the first unit and second unit of the power play, I think our players are going to look at Bruce Boudreau when he talks and really listen.”
Leipold also talked about what his impressions of Boudreau have been. “I love him,” he said. “I love the way he communicates. He’s a very open person. He’s honest, he’s genuine. You can tell that just by the way he talks. If you ask him a question, he’ll let you know exactly what his feelings are. I think he’s going to get along so well with our players because he has been there, he’s done that. He’s a winning coach. He wins wherever he goes, and we’re just really excited about Bruce Boudreau.”
Along those same lines, Leipold said that while he believes the team improved its personnel this offseason, he added he thinks the coaching changes should make the biggest difference.
“Probably honestly, the big addition is Bruce and Scott Stevens and John Anderson,” he said. “… The style of play is going to be a little different.
“I think we’ve gotten bigger at our first-line centermen. I think Eric Staal, if we can get him engaged, and he’s come to camp in great shape — you know he is a great, great player, and we’re going to have to get as much out of Eric Staal as we can, and if we can continue to have him as a first-line player, we’re going to have a really strong first, second and third line.”
Fletcher’s job is safe
While there has been a coaching change, Leipold denied any rumors that Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher is on the hot seat.
“A lot of people were talking about that, and the answer is no,” he said. “Chuck and I are on the same page. I like the move Chuck has made with Bruce, and Chuck was never on the hot seat. He’s our general manager, and he’s going to be there for a long time.”
• Mike Sherels, the Gophers linebackers coach who has been battling digestive system problems that nearly killed him, was on the phone in the pressbox to the bench in Saturday’s victory over Colorado State. Sherels said he plans to be working every day.
• Craig Thompson, the commissioner of the Mountain West Conference and a University of Minnesota graduate, was at the Gophers-Colorado State game and had this to say about the Rams’ expectations this season: “They were about middle of the pack in the Mountain West, but they’re making great strides. This freshman quarterback [Collin Hill] is going to really help them, a true freshman. I think they found the answer with him.”
• The Gophers thought this might be their year to beat Wisconsin, which began the season unranked. But after the Badgers’ convincing victory at Michigan State, forget it.
• Sports Illustrated’s Peter King on Sam Bradford’s Vikings debut last weekend against the Packers: “Could you have ever figured the next part [of Bradford’s story]? That Bradford would have his best game as a pro — his only game in his 64 NFL games completing at least 70 percent of his throws, for at least 250 yards, with a rating above 120, and winning — in his first start for his third team?”
• One benefit for the Vikings in Sunday’s game at Carolina is that they aren’t the only team missing their top running back. The Panthers will have to do without Jonathan Stewart, who suffered a hamstring injury in their victory over San Francisco last week. One player the Vikings will have to cover is veteran tight end Greg Olsen, who has 12 receptions for 195 yards on the season, both NFL highs for a tight end.
• This will be the second Vikings-Panthers game in a row in which Carolina doesn’t have to face Adrian Peterson, who missed the 2014 game because he was suspended. The good news for the Vikings is that they won that game 31-13, scoring two touchdowns off blocked punts at TCF Bank Stadium.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO
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