Mason gives players an extra day off

by Brett Angel

Minnesota is probably the last team in the Big Ten that should have any kind of complaint about its schedule.

By virtue of the conference’s rotating scheduling process, the Gophers have the good fortune of avoiding both defending national champion Ohio State and No. 18 Purdue in the 2003 slate.

There is one aspect of Minnesota’s football calendar, however, with which the Gophers have a legitimate gripe.

Minnesota is one of just two Big Ten teams (along with the Boilermakers) that do not get the benefit of a bye week during their 12-game season.

The Gophers have managed to stay remarkably healthy so far this season – as far as starters missing games to injuries – but coach Glen Mason felt the time was right to give his team a break.

Mason gave players the day off Sunday to give them a chance to rest and refresh before Saturday’s homecoming game against Indiana (1-7, 0-4 Big Ten).

“I gave it some thought ahead of time that if we won the game (against Illinois) we’d give them Sunday off,” Mason said. “I don’t worry about them physically but just from a mental standpoint. These kids have been going since Aug. 4.”

Technically, the Gophers do have a bye. It just comes Nov. 22, one week after they conclude their regular season against Iowa.

So, instead of allowing players to rest and get healthy, Minnesota’s bye potentially gives players an extra week to gather rust before a bowl game.

Normally, players spend Sundays critiquing game film from the day before and follow that with a light practice.

Monday is their regular day off, so the Gophers will have two days to themselves before getting back to work Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the Hoosiers.

New balance?

Statistically, the Gophers’ offense had its most balanced performance of the season against Illinois on Saturday.

Minnesota gained 338 yards on the ground and 237 through the air, resulting in a season-high in total yards (575).

“I guess if you look at the stats yard-wise you’d say they’re pretty balanced,” Mason said. “But we ran the ball a hell of a lot more than we threw it. There’s nothing balanced about that.”

The Gophers, who average more than 50 running plays per game this year, ran the ball 57 times against the Illini, compared to just 16 passes.

Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq – the nation’s leader in passer efficiency – made the most of his 15 attempts, however, finishing with 12 completions and three touchdowns.

“I think we have the ability to do it every game,” Abdul-Khaliq said.

“Sometimes our tailbacks are running so good you just can’t stop giving them the ball. But we definitely showed that we can be a very good balanced offense.”

Mason has made a habit of passing the ball only when he needs to this season. The only game in which Abdul-Khaliq passed more than 18 times came against Michigan State after Minnesota fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter.

The Gophers shouldn’t have much trouble offensively no matter which route they choose to take against Indiana on Saturday.

The Hoosiers are last in the Big Ten in total defense, yielding 432 yards per game to their opponents. Indiana gave up 603 to an average Ohio State offense last Saturday.