The Gophers haven’t won a bowl game since beating Alabama 20-16 in the 2004 Music City Bowl. Since then, they have gone 0-7, with five losses by four points or fewer.
But Gophers coach Tracy Claeys says this will be as healthy as his team has been in several weeks with the return of several key players. That should give the team a good shot to beat Central Michigan in Monday’s Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit.
“We’ll be healthier than what we had been for the last four or five games,” Claeys said. “Scott Ekpe did a little more at practice each day, Steve Richardson is getting closer to being ready to go, and Rodney [Williams’] ankle, at running back, is getting better. We’re going to get back a few guys. We won’t get them all back, but like I said, it will be as healthy as we’ve been for the last four or five ballgames.”
Claeys said that one of the benefits of the extra practices before the bowl game is that the Gophers freshmen who are redshirting, a group of more than 20 players, have gotten a chance to learn more of the playbook instead of just running scout team plays.
“The one thing we have done is that every other practice the young guys who redshirted go out early and we get in about 30 minutes of going head-to-head against each other where they run our offense and our defense, and we do some live tackling,” Claeys said. “I think those kids have enjoyed getting back and running our offense and our defense, and they get a little break while the older guys stretch and then come out and do the work team stuff.
“They’re going to get a good eight practices of jump-start towards spring ball in learning what to do again and getting familiar with our system as we go here through the bowl. There’s two things there, you want to develop your young kids and at the same time you want to make sure you’re prepared and ready for the game.”
Central Michigan most likely will have a home-crowd advantage, and this is a team that played Oklahoma State, Syracuse and Michigan State very well on the road.
“From the film I’ve watched, the quarterback [Cooper Rush] has thrown the ball for about 3,700 yards this year, so they’ve done a good job throwing the ball,” Claeys said. “What concerns you the most is they have five receivers with over 500 yards receiving, so he has done a great job of spreading it around.
“They don’t let you just take away one or two people. So you know offensively they get the ball to their receivers, and a variety of them, in space. So, one, we’ll have to make sure we get pressure on the quarterback, but more important is tackling after the catch. They do a lot with the short passing game and they do a great job of catching the football. We’ll have to do a good job of tackling.”
As for the Chippewas defense, Claeys said to expect a tough but straightforward system.
“Defensively they don’t try to trick a lot of people,” he said. “They play extremely hard and fundamentally sound. They don’t give up a lot of free points, they make teams earn everything. … Those kids, a lot of them have been told they’re not good enough to play in the Big Ten or in a Power Five conference, so they play with a chip on their shoulder and play hard. They’re fundamentally sound.
“At the same time, we have to control ourselves. We have to respect the process of preparing. If we take care of ourselves and prepare and show up and play hard and have fun, then good things are going to happen.”
Former Gophers coach Glen Mason did color commentary for the Central Michigan-Michigan State game for the Big Ten Network and believes his old team will get a good test Monday.
“Central Michigan is a good football team,” Mason said. “… [Michigan State] beat Central Michigan 30-10, but the game was closer than that.”
Mason added that as good as quarterback Connor Cook has been all season for the Spartans, from that game, “If I had to pick one quarterback, I’d have picked Cooper Rush.
“… This guy is a really good passer. He does it all. He can throw from the pocket. He can throw from the perimeter. They averaged well over 300 yards passing a game. They’ve got good receivers.”
As a final word, Mason said: “There’s a lot of good football teams in the Mid-American Conference, and I used to say all the time, there’s a lot of good football players that should be playing in the Big Ten and there’s a lot of players in the Big Ten that should be playing the in Mid-American Conference.”
Pearson pushed off
Monday is the 40th anniversary of the famous playoff game when Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson pushed off against Vikings cornerback Nate Wright and caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from Roger Staubach in the final minute for a 17-14 Dallas victory.
No penalty was called even though it was clearly obvious, and Dallas went to the Super Bowl instead of a team that might have been the best of all the Vikings teams of the era.
History was made that day, not only with Staubach first using the term “Hail Mary,” but also because I raised so much heck about the decision that from that day on, only one writer was allowed to visit officials in their locker room to talk to them about a questionable play.
• University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler will visit with Kill to see if there is a possible position for the former coach on the school staff. … The university will break ground in the next few days on the first part of its new athletics facilities. … The Gophers men’s hockey locker room is being fixed over.
• Speculation is that Kevin Garnett is involved with Glen Taylor in the sale of 30 percent of the Timberwolves to Steve Kaplan of Los Angeles. The deal only needs the lawyers to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. Garnett will no doubt be a partner of Kaplan’s when the Wolves star is ready to end his playing career. … No doubt there will be a lot of second-guessers when the Wolves go through with their plan to trade Kevin Martin, who is the best shooter on the team when he is on his game. It’s pretty obvious 19-year-old Tyus Jones is still not ready for the NBA.
• The top NFL prospect at UCLA is linebacker Myles Jack. Could it be that the Vikings will draft a third linebacker from that school?
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