U football plays spring game

Murali Balaji

During last year’s spring practices, the Gophers football team was struggling to piece together an offense that would complement its improving defense.
Some things never change, as exhibited by Saturday’s spring intrasquad game at the Metrodome.
The defense, with several new starters, held off a late offensive rally to outlast the offense, 69-64, under a modified scoring system. Gophers coach Glen Mason’s decision to extend the length of the game was due in part to the team’s quarterback question.
Despite maintaining that senior Billy Cockerham would be the No. 1 signal caller heading into training camp, Mason utilized highly-anticipated freshman Asad Abdul-Khaliq in almost as many series. Add to the fact that junior Andy Persby looked healthy and nimble during the game, and the decision to start Cockerham may not be so clear-cut.
“There is no doubt that we’re a better team compared to this point last year,” Mason said. “I remember last year the first question I had to answer was about Billy being the ‘O-fer Gopher’ or something like that.”
Cockerham threw for 123 yards on 14-of-23 passing, but he had two early interceptions as well and seemed to be well off target early on. The most impressive of the quarterbacks was Persby, who showed some agility in the pocket while completing 12 passes and throwing two touchdowns.
“My legs are feeling fine now,” he said. “I think I’m definitely ready to just go out and play.”
But while Cockerham and Persby were trying to earn Mason’s confidence as reliable signal callers, most of the crowd and the coaching staff had their eyes on Abdul-Khaliq. The 6-foot-2 scrambler looked shaky early, but finished the game with a decent 9-of-17 for 50 yards.
While Abdul-Khaliq demonstrated his agility and ability to put touch on the deep ball, he was more concerned with getting into a comfort level with his new teammates, many of whom were anxious to see his skills in action.
“With all the struggles I went through last year, I’m glad that I can finally quarterback for big-time college football program,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “I know the system, and there won’t be any more excuses for me not to perform.”
To decisively gauge the performance of the offense as a whole is premature. Wide receiver Luke Leverson, slowed by shoulder injuries, was held out of the game, and starting running back Thomas Hamner wasn’t at full strength due to various minor ailments.
Other notes … Wide receiver Jermaine Mays and defensive end Germaine Landrum were not allowed to participate in the spring game as a result of their academic ineligibility. They are expected to be cleared to return in the fall.