Druckett fast becoming a headache for Gophers

John R. Carter

After holding 5-foot-11, 204-pound Heisman Trophy candidate Damien Anderson to 86-yards rushing last weekend, Minnesota’s defense has a much larger problem to solve this Saturday.

Michigan State running back T.J. Duckett is big – 6-foot-1, 249-pound big. He’s big like NFL star Jerome Bettis. And for the Gophers sake, he’s bigger than nine defensive starters.

That’s big.

“He runs hard,” Gophers defensive tackle Darrell Reid – listed at 238 pounds – said. “He’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

Minnesota has lucked out on the schedule the past two years by not drawing Duckett, who rushed for 1,959 yards and 17 touchdowns over that span.

Duckett’s play landed him on a number of preseason All-American lists, including Playboy, Football News and the Sporting News. So far this season, Duckett is a long way from reaping the postseason awards.

Through four games, Duckett is sixth in the conference and 39th in the nation in rushing at 91.5 yards per game.

“He hasn’t had the production early in the season he had a year ago,” Spartans coach Bobby Williams said. “But he’s been steady in there for us and I’m looking for a breakout game from him sometime.”

Duckett’s big game could come against the smaller Gophers – ranked 8th in the Big Ten versus the run at 171 yards per game.

Haygood is good, too

Duckett isn’t the lone offensive bullet in Williams’ chamber. Senior wideout/kick returner Herb Haygood can shoot holes in an opponent’s defense and special teams.

Last week against Iowa, Haygood, who runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, set career highs with nine receptions and 119 yards. But the real damage came on Haygood’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

The return marked the second straight game Haygood took one to the house. In Michigan State’s previous contest against Northwestern, Haygood returned a kickoff 84 yards for a score.

“Herb has really worked hard,” Williams said. “But it’s really been a combination of our special teams return unit. Their execution has been very good.”

The success of Haygood and the Spartans’ special teams unit has Minnesota coach Glen Mason hoping for kicks to travel out of the end zone for a touchback. But if that doesn’t work, cornerback Mike Lehan thinks Haygood will likely see the ball.

“I don’t expect we’re going to kick it away from him,” Lehan said. “We’ll kick it to him, cover down field and try and make the tackle.”

Burns getting hot

Had it not been for pouring rain and poor throwing by Minnesota’s quarterbacks, junior wideout Antoine Burns might have posted a career game last Saturday.

Burns’ number was called 13 times in the huddle at Northwestern, but only hauled in two catches.

After missing most of last season with finger and knee injuries, Burns has emerged as a threat to compliment Ron Johnson. In five games Burns has 11 receptions for 206 yards, second on the team behind Johnson.

Mason is pleased with Burns’ progress this season.

“He’s got good speed, he has good hands, he’s worked tremendously hard in practice,” Mason said. “The last couple of weeks he’s really stepped it up a notch.”

Wait ’til Saturday

Mason is still mum on who will start at quarterback against the Spartans, mainly because he doesn’t know.

“The situation is status quo,” Mason said. “Neither has established himself as a clear-cut No. 1. So we’ll proceed as we have.”

Which means what, coach?

“You’ll find out Saturday.”

 

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]