QUICK LOOK BACK: The Golden Gophers threatened to be interesting last season. Second-year coach Tim Brewster had them 7-1 going into November.There was bowl talk aplenty, but there were also plenty of voices asking, who have they beat? Well, the Gophers’ best win was Illinois, a team that woefully underachieved in ’08. UM lost, as expected, at Ohio State on Sept. 27. Then, the Gophers folded like a linen napkin in November, closing the season with five straight losses, including a 55-0 dud to close out the UM’s stay in the Metrodome and a 42-21 loss to Kansas in the Insight Bowl.
WR Eric Decker established himself as one of the best in the Big Ten, catching 84 balls for 1,074 yards and seven TDs. QB Adam Weber might not have taken a step back, but maybe didn’t make the leap UM thought he might, completing 255 of 410 for 2,716 yards, 15 TDs and eight interceptions. The defense will miss Willie VanDeSteeg, who racked up 10.5 sacks.
The biggest misfire of last season was 55-0 to Iowa. That one left a mark.
FOURTH DOWN — CONCERNS: The Gophers are moving outdoors this season, opening brand spanking new TCF Bank Stadium. This has shifted Brewer’s offensive philosophy from pass spread to more of a power run. This is a sound, logical move, but do the Gophers have the horses to make it work, at least this season? Leading rusher Deleon Eskridge returns, but he averaged just 3.7 yards on 184 carries last season. Depth-chart leader Duane Bennett was held out of spring and is attempting a comeback from a torn ACL last season. The O-line returns, but is still on the young side. New line coach Tim Davis will put his touch on the OL. Look for Matt Stommes and Jeff Wills to possibly breakthrough at tackle.
THIRD DOWN — STRENGTHS: The Gophers gave up 97 points in their final two games of ’08, but the defense does return eight starters. It should be better, right? Leading tackler LB Lee Campbell returns. Cornerback Traye Simmons and his team-high four interceptions returns. Defensive tackles Garrett Brown and Eric Small are the co-captains. Senior co-captains at DT worked pretty well for Iowa last season. The real find of spring practice appears to be end Cedric McKinley. He recorded three sacks and four tackles for loss in the spring game, where the QB isn’t tackled, but still it’s a start.
SECOND DOWN — THE TALK: “I think this team has a real edge to it. Physical toughness is a big part of that. This spring there was a big emphasis on being able to run the football. We showed that we can run the football and that we’re going to be good at doing it. We still have a lot of work to do, but we really improved as a team this spring.” — UM coach Tim Brewster after the Gophers’ spring game.
“Our Coaches go back on the road this week spreading “Gopher Love”!! You got to love the NCAA. Twitter is here to stay!!” — Brewster on Twitter, where he’s known as “Play4brew.”
FIRST DOWN — THE PLAY: Iowa fans, you saw sophomore Troy Stoudermire last November. You know he’s got something. Yes, the bad news was nine kick returns, but credit Stoudermire, a WR/CB type, for making the most of them, setting a UM record with 283 returns yards. Going into ’09, Stoudermire is in the plans. In the spring game, he played some wideout and was credited with 274 yards and a TD. He’s going to get “touches” and he could be a weapon.
“At receiver, defensive back, or in the return game, we are just glad he’s a Gopher,” he said.
Also in the spring game, freshman QB MarQueis Gray completed 8 of 10 for 141 yards and two TDs. Play4brew also likey. Look for specific packages to use the 6-4, 215-pounder’s athleticism.