After briefly dissecting last week’s 26-7 spanking at the hands of Wisconsin, Gophers’ coach Glen Mason said it was time to move on to this week’s opponent.
And while Indiana is the team listed on the Gophers’ schedule, the real opponent seems to be Hoosiers freshman phenom quarterback Antwaan Randle El. Randle El’s spectacular play-making ability has drawn praises from coaches throughout the country, and Mason was no exception.
“He is something special,” Mason said Tuesday. “I heard that he’s also starting on Indiana’s basketball team, and it’s rare to see somebody excel in two sports the way he does.”
If there is a glimmer of hope in slowing down Randle El it’s that the Gophers are facing the option for the second straight week. The run defense contained Wisconsin’s option offense, but the Hoosiers are more multidimensional than Wisconsin.
Mason’s counterpart, Indiana coach Cam Cameron, was light on praise for his own team and full of praise for the Gophers. Cameron, in his second season as coach of Indiana, said he sees similarities between both football teams.
“Minnesota is definitely the most improved team in the league,” Cameron said. “They had a very tough stretch of games and they’ve come out pretty well.”
Indiana, like Minnesota, has struggled to find consistency on defense and is searching for answers after getting whipped by lowly Illinois last week.
“I think we play well at times,” Cameron said. “We’re not even anywhere close to where we need to be defensively.”
But Mason didn’t completely buy into Cameron’s analysis of the Hoosiers defense. Linebacker Jabar Robinson, a Butkus Award candidate, and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, whose eight sacks top the team, are two reasons why.
“You’ve got to block him,” Mason said of Ogunleye. “Statistically, the worst two defenses in the league are playing this week. Their offense is a lot better than ours, though.”
Offensively, the Hoosiers have more than Randle El. Wide receiver Tyrone Browning has emerged as a solid receiver in only his second season.
“He’s a competitor,” Cameron said of Browning. “He’s not real big, not real fast — he just plays hard every week.” Mason, whose erratic secondary will face Browning, agreed.
“He’s a very good receiver,” Mason said. “He just makes play after play.”
Mason said sophomore wide receiver Jack Brewer will imitate Randle El during practices to get the defense ready. He also said he was impressed with the play of freshman receiver Ron Johnson, who caught a career-high nine passes against the Badgers.
“Ron Johnson had an awfully good game,” Mason said. “He’s a good receiver, and we think he can be a great receiver.”
The 6-foot-3 Johnson, who has shined at times as the second receiver, said his confidence has risen as he’s adjusted to the Minnesota offense. Johnson’s presence will be essential in preventing leading receiver Luke Leverson from being double-teamed.
“My development has come a lot from Luke,” Johnson said. “All through the game, he just kept telling me to expect more passes to come my way. That really told me that he had confidence in me.”
ù Mason said quarterback Andy Persby, who is recovering from a bruised right thigh, was listed as doubtful for the Indiana game.
ù Senior tackle Troy Duerr, who converted from tight end recently, will make his second consecutive start at right tackle against the Hoosiers.