For the second consecutive Saturday, the Gophers held an extended scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium that served as a preview of next week’s spring game.
In fact, this one might have been better, as the coaching staff figures to be extra cautious to prevent injuries this week, especially to the offensive and defensive starters.
“The spring game is for the fans and all that stuff, but for the coaches, it’s misery because you don’t want to get somebody hurt,” coach Jerry Kill said this past week. “I think we worry about that more than anything.”
Saturday did feature some hard-hitting action, with the first-team offense repeatedly facing the first-team defense, etc. Some observations:
• The offense started with an impressive drive that stalled in the red zone. Rodrick Williams had runs of 5, 5, 12 and 15 yards. Mitch Leidner added runs of 13 and 9 yards. During the season, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover almost surely would have kept the ball on the ground until the defense proved it could stop that.
But since this was spring practice, Limegrover gave the passing game some work. Leidner threw to Drew Wolitarsky in the end zone, but Briean Boddy-Calhoun had him enveloped in coverage. Leidner missed low with his next throw, and then a screen pass to Eric Carter went for minus-2 yards.
Ryan Santoso kicked a 30-yard field goal. He later added a 45-yarder.
• Leidner completed only one of his first seven passes, but then the Gophers gave him a series of simpler throws, and he found a rhythm. He finished 8-for-15 for 39 yards — nothing spectacular, but he escaped his early rut. He also added eight rushes for 39 yards.
• Chris Streveler had his first pass intercepted by linebacker Chris Wipson. If that was the day’s offensive lowlight, Streveler also delivered the highlight when he pulled the ball on the read option and raced for a 63-yard run. Streveler finished 2-for-3 passing for 39 yards.
• If the season started today, Williams probably would be the starting tailback. He rushed six times for 45 yards. Rodney Smith had nine rushes for 34 yards, and Berkley Edwards had more of a tough go, with eight carries for 14 yards.
• Jeff Jones continues to get a long look at slot receiver. He looked like Maxx Williams when he dived to catch an 8-yard throw from Jacques Perra. Jones also saw time at tailback, rushing five times for 10 yards, including a tough 1-yard touchdown.
• Isaiah Gentry (hamstring) and Desmond Gant (concussion) couldn’t play, but fellow redshirt freshman receiver Melvin Holland Jr. caught three passes for 31 yards.
• With Brandon Lingen (broken collarbone) out, the Gophers had only one reception from a tight end. It came when Streveler found the 6-10 Nate Wozniak, who soared high for a 19-yard gain.
• Defensive ends Hank Ekpe and Gaelin Elmore each had sacks. Defensive tackle Gary Moore got behind the line and stuffed Edwards for a loss, and freshman linebacker Julian Huff continued to make a big impression with two tackles for a loss.
• The offense managed only one touchdown in 14 drives, but the no-huddle attack looks smoother each week. Kill almost surely will be pleased next Saturday if the spring game goes like this, especially if the team comes away healthy.