Penalties aside, 'U' offense performs well in first full scrimmage
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Gophers starting quarterback MarQueis Gray had no idea how high tight end Drew Goodger could jump.
Unfortunately for safety Derrick Wells, Gray found out Friday when the Gophers held their first scrimmage of fall camp at TCF Bank Stadium.
Gray located the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Goodger taking off towards the right side of the field and tossed him an easy pass. Wells swarmed in and dove to make the tackle, but Goodger, with surprising grace, leaped over the defender and continued to thunder down the sideline until he was eventually brought down after 25-yards.
"That's why I was so shocked and started screaming and going crazy on the field," Gray said, explaining his astonishment of Goodger's hops.
Goodger's catch and run was one of several solid plays in the offensively dominated scrimmage. The upsurge from the offense was a change in pace not only from the Gophers' previous seven practices of camp but also from the spring, when the defense had a distinct edge over the then-stumbling offense.
The 200 or so fans in attendance were witness to something they didn't see at the Gophers' annual spring game in April: Touchdowns.
James Gillum and Donnell Kirkwood, both of whom are competing for top billing at running back, each tallied a trip into the endzone. Gray directed a couple fairly fluid drives downfield, though the possessions were nearly derailed by offsides and false start calls.
The Gophers haven't hesitated to give their freshmen wide receivers Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison a high number of reps with the first and second teams. With sophomore Devin Crawford-Tufts and senior Victor Keise out with injuries, McDonald and Harbison were required to be very active throughout the scrimmage. McDonald, a former Hopkins high school standout, made athletic grab on a 30-yard pass from Gary while shedding cornerback Michael Carter.
As camp has progressed it has become increasingly clear that the Gophers are targeting McDonald and Harbison to log minutes right away with the youthful wide receiver corps, which is in need of options.
For all the positives from the offense Friday, the coaching staff wasn't thrilled with the spattering of penalties and careless turnovers that occurred.
"On first blush there were some things that we did today that were better than at any point leading up today," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "But there are still way too many things that we as coaches have to make sure that those guys don't keep repeating.
Coach Jerry Kill said Thursday that he intended to rotate in as many players he could during the scrimmage and he followed through. The Gophers fielded multiple units on both sides of the ball, with all four quarterbacks getting quality snaps.
Freshman back-up Philip Nelson tempered some of his previous struggles this week with his best practice of the fall. He threw for two touchdowns, including a pass that sophomore receiver Isaac Fruechte turned into a 70-yard play. Nelson still had his periodic blunders as he and third-team center Isaac Hayes fumbled a snap to end the scrimmage. The fumble came shortly after cornerback Briean Boddy's clean interception off Nelson.
The Gophers' other freshman quarterback, Mitch Leidner, who had being playing better than Nelson earlier in the week, looked slightly rattled and out-of-sync. He was used as the fourth man in the rotation behind Gray, sophomore Max Shortell and Nelson.
Leidner and Nelson have been getting a large share of practice time, but Limegrover insists that doesn't mean Shortell has lost any traction in his claim to the No. 2 spot at quarterback.
"It's just a matter of Max has been through this before," Limegrover said. "The young kids get in there and get the reps and they're going to start closing that gap unless Max keeps going. It's kind of like a race. If Max slows down they'll catch him, but if he keeps getting better as well he'll keep them at arms length then he's that guy.
The defense was not without its highlights.
Linebacker James Manuel was a force at weak-side as he took reps with the first in place senior Keanon Cooper, who was with Brendan Beal and Lamonte Edwards on the second unit. Beal, who is being relied upon to add depth at middle linebacker behind starter Mike Rallis, was on the giving end of numerous tackles. Sophomore Cedric Thompson - a candidate for one of the starting spots at safety - intercepted a pass near the sideline.
Rallis was unhappy with the Gophers' defensive outing overall.
"We gave up too many big plays on defense, way too many mental errors," Rallis said. "That's something we have to look at on the film."
It is still early in camp. The Gophers have three weeks and 19 more practices to go before the season begins Aug. 30 at UNLV.
• The Gophers may have found their frontrunner in the competition at punter. Redshirt freshman Peter Mortell stood out with four strong punts down the middle of the field, registering a couple at 50 yards or more. Senior David Schwerman, who Kill called the most consistent member of the group on Thursday, had a bad day. He shanked several punts out of bounds. Last year's starter Dan Orseske was rarely used during the special teams portion of the scrimmage.
• Thursday was the final practice of fall camp open to the public.