I attended the Gophers spring game today at TCF Bank Stadium. My first reaction to what I saw on the field: this team needs a lot of work.
I was not impressed with starting quarterback Marqueis Gray’s accuracy. He seemed out of rhythm today and had a tough time completing passes. Neither was I impressed with his footwork, which may be contributing to his inaccuracy. Gray seemed slow getting out from under center and did a poor job of squaring his feet on longer throws. I’ll admit his receivers dropped some catch-able balls, but he must do a better job of hitting his receivers in stride or the Gophers passing game will be dreadful this year.
Gray did, however, show off his flashy elusiveness with some long runs. Early in the scrimmage he bolted through a hole on a draw-option and gained around 30 yards before being touched. He would have taken it to the house if it weren’t for the two-hand touch rule for quarterbacks. Gray also did a good job of not throwing into coverage when he was being pressured. On a couple roll-out plays he kept his eyes downfield and gained considerable yardage running out of bounds rather than throw across his body and risk an interception.
Moses Alipate looked solid throwing the ball. He was more consistent than Gray and hit a couple receivers with precise, laser-beam tosses down the middle of the field. Alipate’s footwork was notable, but his decision-making was questionable. At one point he threw into double coverage, only to get bailed out by a pass interference penalty.
Tom Parish sat out due to an undisclosed injury.
Coach Jerry Kill’s offense at Northern Illinois ranked 10th in college football last year, and 7th in the FBS in rushing at 260 yards per game on the ground. Clearly the Gophers are not a team that will pass every play. That fact is comforting considering Gray’s troubles with accuracy and the depth the Gophers have at running back.
The Gophers running game was on full display today. Kill said he will use all four running backs at some point this year.
Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge received the first-team reps today, with Donnell Kirkwood getting carries with the second-team offense. Bennett seems to have a more patient running style, which can benefit him on draws and screens. He made some nice lateral cuts today. However, I was not impressed with his explosiveness. Eskridge is more of a downhill runner and hits the holes with more velocity than Bennett. The two running backs, like last year, will likely be the workhorses of the group. Eskridge and Bennett each broke a few tackles today, but didn’t break any long runs. Kirkwood looked most impressive today, but he also played against the second-team defense. The redshirt freshman broke free on a 25-yard run which set up his three-yard touchdown run, the only touchdown of the day.
Tailback Lamonte Edwards, the most impressive running back early in spring practice, did not play today because of injury. Edwards, the redshirt freshman out of Woodbury, has been out the past two weeks.
The Gophers running backs are featured in this story by Phil Miller of the Star Tribune.
The Gophers defense looked fairly solid throughout the day. While there was little pressure on quarterbacks Gray and Alipate, there was only one occurrence when a receiver was wide open.
Kim Royston made a nice play early in the scrimmage when he broke up a Marqueis Gray pass. It was great to see Royston’s closing speed after the senior suffered a broken leg during last year’s spring practices.
The best play of the day: A 50-yard field goal made by kicker Chris Hawthorne, which drew the loudest cheer of the day from the few thousand fans in attendance. While the kick was slightly helped by the wind, it would have been good from 60 yards. He also made a 30-yarder earlier in the scrimmage.