Gophers make debut in new stadium

More than 15,000 people attended the Gophers scrimmage Saturday.

Gophers make debut in new stadium

Matt Mead

The homecoming of collegiate football for the University of Minnesota officially kicked off 1 p.m. Saturday with a victory walk from McNamara Alumni Center to Oak Street and University Avenue — the site of the new TCF Bank Stadium. A crowd of just more than 15,000 people were on hand, the first to experience football inside the Gophers new on-campus stadium. âÄúWhat a spectacular stadium, absolutely spectacular,âÄù Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said. âÄúThe experience that our guys got today in front of our crowd in our brand new home, it was special.âÄù While much has changed with a new stadium, new coordinators and a new offensive scheme, some key elements of the football team, specifically the offense, remained the same. In the very first play from scrimmage, quarterback Adam Weber dropped back, found his favorite target, and 53 yards later a pass to receiver Eric Decker marked the first touchdown of TCF Bank Stadium. After scoring the first touchdown of the new stadium — albeit in a scrimmage — Weber found Decker again late in the first quarter for another touchdown, this time a 26-yard fade route to the right corner of the end zone. Despite the long throws early on, Brewster played SaturdayâÄôs scrimmage extremely conservatively, not wanting to risk exposing plays and formations to opponents. That conservative play impacted the defense most, with no blitzing and only two formations used all game. Despite the limited selection of plays, senior linebacker Lee Campbell liked what he saw from the defensive side of the ball. âÄúI thought we played well,âÄù Campbell said. âÄúWe were limited in plays because we didnâÄôt want to show too much, but we definitely had good fundamentals, good technique. I thought we showcased our skills pretty well.âÄù The top defensive player in the scrimmage was the same player that Decker beat for the first score of the game, freshman cornerback Michael Carter. Carter finished the day with two interceptions, but what impressed Campbell most about him was how he rebounded after getting beat early. âÄúThatâÄôs what coach [defensive coordinator] Cosgrove tries to teach us on defense, how you handle adversity,âÄù Campbell said. âÄúThatâÄôs going to happen; big plays are going to happen, and I think our identity this year is how weâÄôre going to respond to situations like that.âÄù While playing close to the vest, Brewster did admit he was close to coming to a decision about key position battles that have lasted through camp. Minnesota began the game with an offensive line of Matt Carufel, Trey Davis, Chris Bunders, Matt Stommes and Jeff Wills, and Brewster conceded that offensive line will most likely be the same that starts against Syracuse Sept. 5. Another position battle is in the backfield, with the starting tailback position still without a clear starter. Sophomore DeLeon Eskridge started the game, but it was Duane Bennett, a fellow sophomore, who finished as the gameâÄôs leading rusher, with 65 yards on seven carries. Regardless of who starts, Bennett said having two or three options in the backfield is something the Gophers can use to their advantage. âÄúWhether itâÄôs me or whether itâÄôs DeLeon, just having that presence where you have two backs splitting time is going to be great,âÄù Bennett said. âÄúItâÄôs going to be a great mix-up of the offensive backfield this year.âÄù Though Weber threw for two touchdowns early in the game, he also struggled, finishing the day with three interceptions. One of the interceptions came on a deflected pass, while the other two were on miscommunication between Weber and the receivers. ItâÄôs an issue Weber believes will get resolved with practice and further learning of offensive coordinator Jedd FischâÄôs new pro-style offensive scheme. âÄúThereâÄôs going to be some growth within the offense,âÄù Weber said. âÄúBut thatâÄôs why IâÄôm spending a lot of time with Coach Fisch. We donâÄôt have that much time. We have to feel comfortable with each other, so I know what heâÄôs going to call and I know where to go with the ball, and I know what he expects.âÄù After the game, Decker, who finished as the leading receiver with 101 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions, acknowledged having a chance to get a feel for the game-day atmosphere of TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday will benefit them come Sept. 12, the first home game of the new stadium. âÄúItâÄôs nice to be able to practice in here and have a scrimmage here, because then you get the âÄòoohs and aahsâÄô out,âÄù Decker said. âÄúNow itâÄôs going to be a typical game day experience. Obviously theyâÄôll be more fans, and the excitement level will be higher, but I think we got it out of our system, of what itâÄôs going to be like, which is good.âÄù