D-IAA team falls 55-7

Michael Dougherty

In the marathon that is the Gophers football team’s quest for a return to a bowl game, Minnesota is at the 13.1 mile mark after a 55-7 win over Illinois State at the Metrodome Saturday afternoon.
Minnesota (3-0) quarterback Billy Cockerham set the tone early with a 56-yard touchdown run with the game just 2:11 old, and the senior would continue on to have a career day against the Redbirds (2-1).
With career highs of 18 completions, 218 yards passing and 156 yards rushing to go with two touchdown passes and two touchdowns rushing, Cockerham did not look like a quarterback whose job was in jeopardy.
Gophers coach Glen Mason had said he would like to see more consistency out of Cockerham after his quarterback went 4 of 15 for only 36 yards against UL-Monroe last week.
“I didn’t challenge him any more (than usual). You can say it in different terms though,” Mason said. “I remember telling Billy, ‘When you’re a kid growing up playing touch football, everybody wanted to be the quarterback and no one wanted to be the left guard. But if you were the quarterback and you missed a wide open receiver, do you know what happened? The left guard became the quarterback and you became the left guard.’
“I guess he got my drift. I don’t think he wants to play guard.”
Against the Division I-AA Redbirds, however, Cockerham could have probably played left guard and still rolled to a lopsided win.
A clear pattern developed almost immediately when Illinois State went three-and-out and punted to the Minnesota 43. The Gophers took over possession and promptly engineered a two-play, 57-yard drive that ate up a whopping 1:04.
The Redbirds second series began with Gophers defensive end Karon Riley sacking Illinois State quarterback Kevin Glenn. It was the first sack the Redbirds have given up this season, thus setting up the pattern of three-and-outs for the Redbirds and subsequent Gophers scoring drives in motion.
Minnesota took over on its own 34 and went 66 yards in 4 plays in only 53 seconds, highlighted by a 45 yard reception by long snapper Derek Rackley who took the ball down to the two yard line. Running back Thomas Hamner took the ball in on the next play for a 14-0 lead.
For Rackley, who has graduated and has a job in the sales department of General Mills, it was his first reception. Mason said he was thrilled to see the play work for the hard-working Rackley.
“Being that it was my idea, I was very excited the play worked,” Mason said.
The catch was the first of Rackley’s career and came on only the second route he had ever ran. It also was a sign of just how overmatched Illinois State was.
Minnesota scored nine times (seven touchdowns and two field goals) with the average scoring drive going six plays, traveling 60 yards and taking only 2:02.
Redbirds coach Todd Berry summed up the rout in terms a man from Oklahoma is familiar with.
“We got taken out back to the woodshed and got a spankin’,” he said.
Berry said getting behind by so much, so early, frustrated his team and “took the wind out of our sails.”
At 3-0 and a week off before they open the Big Ten season at Northwestern on Oct. 2, the Gophers are in a similar position to last year when they also opened the season 3-0. But the week off to prepare for the conference opener against Purdue proved to be ineffective as the Boilermaker’s walloped Minnesota 56-21.
Mason was asked if he felt differently about this season compared to last.
“Thank you for reminding me, (about the Purdue game). Yeah we did get thumped,” Mason said. “I felt pretty good last year too, so I guess we’ll wait until we after we play Northwestern and then I’ll tell you.”
With two more sacks, Riley now has seven in his first three games. Believe it or not, that ties him for 10th place in school history on the single season sack list.
“I’m happy I’m blessed with this ability to do the things I’m doing,” Riley said. “I just hope I can continue at this pace.”
Michael Dougherty covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]