Tapeh carries Gophers running hopes

WACO, Texas — The phrase “Don’t mess with Texas” is common down in cowboy country. But after Minnesota running back Thomas Tapeh’s performance on Saturday, he might try and rewrite it to sound something more like “Don’t mess with Thomas.”
Tapeh wore down Baylor, rushing for 183 yards on 32 carries and fueling his Gophers much-needed 34-9 win over the Bears. Tapeh had a pair of touchdowns in the rout, one on the ground, the other in the air.
Those efforts earned Tapeh the Big Ten offensive player of the week award. He’s the first Minnesota player to receive the honor this season.
In just his second game in a Minnesota uniform, Tapeh has already begun to show the skills that made him a highly-recruited back out of St. Paul Johnson High School in 1998.
Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said he can see a bright future for Tapeh.
“He’s going to be a real big bruising back that will be able to get the first down for us,” Abdul-Khaliq said.
Gophers coach Glen Mason, however, believes Tapeh still has a long way to go. But Mason also realizes Tapeh has time on his side.
“He’s a big strong running back,” Mason said. “We gave it to him a lot, and I thought he did a pretty good job. He’s a young player that is very inexperienced. He’s going to get better and better.”
Tapeh carried the ball just four times for 30 yards in last week’s loss to Ohio. Saturday was Tapeh’s coming out party, although he wouldn’t take any credit.
“I was nervous the first couple of series’,” Tapeh said. “But the O-line kept telling me to calm down and run behind them.”
Tapeh did. Several of the holes he found would have allowed a stampede of Texas cattle to run wild.
Tapeh ran the ball effectively throughout the game, allowing the Gophers offense to wear down the Bears. Only once did Tapeh lose yardage on a carry.
He became the first Gophers freshman to rush for over 100 yards in a game since Thomas Hamner in 1996.
He wasn’t just a factor on the ground. Tapeh’s 27-yard touchdown catch — his only reception of the day — put the game away early in the second half.
Mason admitted after the game he planned on starting Tapeh, but following warm-ups he decided to go with sophomore Tellis Redmon.
Redmon, who started Minnesota’s first two games, was inconsistent against the Bears, gaining just 33 yards in 11 carries. He also fumbled in the second quarter, prompting Mason to sit Redmon down and put Tapeh in the game.
Although Mason smiled and said Redmon was not in his “dog house” and will still see action at running back, he said the starting job is Tapeh’s to lose.
And that’s just fine with Tapeh. Just fine as long as he has his teammates around him.
“I’m ready to follow the O-line and go wherever they want me to go,” Tapeh said.

Extra Points

ù Freshman tight end Ben Utecht was knocked out in the second quarter with a concussion and did not return. Mason said Utecht is showing no affects and should be ready to play against Purdue on Saturday.

ù With two tackles-for-a-loss Saturday, defensive tackle John Schlecht is now tied for the Minnesota career mark. Schlecht — with 33 TFL’s — is tied with Steve Neils.

ù Linebacker Justin Hall, who was doubtful with a hyperextended right elbow, did play and made a pair of tackles.

ù Sophomore place kicker Dan Nystrom seemed back on track, nailing his first two field goals of 22 and 44 yards. But Nystrom, who was 2 for 6 in attempts prior to Saturday, missed a 21-yarder midway through the third quarter.

ù Preston Gruening, the Big Ten’s leading punter, had an attempt blocked early in the first quarter, setting up Baylor’s field goal. Mason called the play, which developed because of a missed block by Minnesota’s Ben Mezera, a “cardinal sin.”

ù A group of Gophers had career-firsts on Saturday. Senior safety Clorenzo Griffin — Tyrone Carter’s replacement — had his first collegiate interception in the fourth quarter, while fellow safety Eric Lee had his first career fumble recovery.
Running back Tellis Redmon had his first career touchdown reception, while Renato Fitzpatrick had his first touchdown.
Wide receiver Antoine Burns and tight end Scooter Baugus, who is from Fort Worth, each had their first-career receptions.

ù Senior Erik Larson got the start at right guard over junior Ryan Roth. Roth has been the team’s starter at the position since his freshman year.
“(Larson’s) really been practicing well,” Mason said. “Larson was really hustling (in practice last week) and catching everybody’s eye — including mine.”

ù The Gophers evened their record in the state of Texas to 1-1 under Mason. Minnesota lost the Sun Bowl to Oregon last December in El Paso.

ù The win was Mason’s first over Baylor. He was 0-2 against the Bears while coach at Kansas.

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