Mason talks new game

The words came Monday afternoon from Minnesota Gophers coach Glen Mason and were directed at his players.
The basic gist: “You guys are underachieving.”
After dropping a 38-24 game to Purdue last Saturday, and with No. 24 Illinois set to arrive at the Metrodome this weekend, Mason felt the Gophers needed a bit of a jump start.
“(The talk) was heart to heart, guy to guy, man to man,” junior wide receiver Ron Johnson said, “It wasn’t meant to put anyone down. Anybody can see we haven’t reached our goals.”
At 2-2, 0-1 in the Big Ten, Minnesota hasn’t lived up to the expectations the players put forth before the season started. With seven games left, the Gophers need four wins to become eligible for a bowl game.
Minnesota begins its quest against the Illini (3-1, 0-1) — a team the Gophers beat 37-7 on the road last season — with a new starting quarterback. Mason named junior Travis Cole to the lineup earlier this week, replacing freshman Asad Abdul-Khaliq, the starter for the first four games.
Mason said Minnesota’s sluggish play was the reason for the benching. But he also said the fault did not lie entirely with Abdul-Khaliq.
“There has been a lot of pressure put on the quarterback position,” Mason said, “…either directly by asking too much from the coaches or indirectly by some of the other positions who have more talent and experience, and haven’t picked up the slack.”
A large amount of that talent, Mason said, revolves around a defense that “hasn’t lived up to expectations.”
After four games last season the Gophers defense had accounted for 21 sacks and five interceptions. This year, with eight of last year’s starters on the team, they have just seven sacks and one pick.
“I’m disappointed with the way our defense has performed because of the number of guys we had coming back,” Mason said. “There is no reason, other than that we are underachieving.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Mason said he expected more from veteran players at positions other than quarterback and running back.
“If you have breakdowns in your offensive line, receivers not catching the ball or missing blocks on sweeps, the offensive doesn’t move,” Mason said. “But that is not the quarterback’s fault.”
Compared to their offense output from last season, the Gophers are averaging a touchdown with a two-point conversion less after four games.
Mason understands Minnesota doesn’t have the experience and talent of a year ago. But he thinks the Gophers can play like they did.
“We’re not long on talent, but we’re long on character,” Mason said. “Our only salvation is the word ‘team.’
“We’re not going to beat anybody because we have superior talent, but we can compete with anybody if we have superior team attitude and spirit. I don’t think we have that right now.”
If Minnesota doesn’t start achieving, they could end up watching the postseason bowls instead of playing in one. Clearly, in front of the television over break is one place the Gophers don’t want to be.
“We don’t want it to be a flash in the pan, one-year bowl game thing, where we sit at home during the holidays,” offensive tackle Jake Kuppe said.

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