Gophers coach calls for more forced turnovers

Aaron Blake

Minnesota football coach Glen Mason emphasized Tuesday his team’s need to force more turnovers and improve starting field position for the offense.

Though he was happy with the 24th-ranked Gophers’ (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) performance in a 36-10 win over Illinois on Saturday, he said these things need to get better as his team prepares to battle Indiana on Saturday.

“We’ve really missed out on some opportunities (for turnovers),” Mason said. “There have been some that were right in our hands. We got in the right position, but it’s just not making those plays that really could have helped us.”

The Gophers’ goal before the season was to force three turnovers per game.

Through nine games, they have yet to accomplish that goal. They have forced two turnovers each in five games but only forced two total in their last three games.

Lack of turnovers might be contributing to poor starting field position for the offense, along with strong kicking from opponents.

“We’ve had some pretty good kicking exhibitions against us,” Mason said. “The kid Saturday had two punts over 60 yards. That doesn’t help.”

RB sent Ward to hospital

Mason revealed a hard-hitting story Tuesday about freshman tailback Laurence Maroney.

During summer practice, Maroney hit Eli Ward, a senior captain and strong safety, so hard Ward had to go to the hospital for stitches on the bridge of his nose, Mason said.

“He broke out of the backfield pretty good,” Ward said. “He did a couple shake moves and shook a couple linebackers. So I come up, and he does a move like he’s going to shake me and just lowers his shoulder at the last minute.

“I had to give him some respect.”

Abdul-Khaliq earns praise

Mason had kind words about senior quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq’s presence on the field.

“He makes great decisions in the running game,” Mason said.

“He gets us in the right play and gets us out of the wrong play. With audibles and checking, he’s done a phenomenal job. That comes with experience.”

Bad goes to worse for Illini

Struggling for its first Big Ten win and already playing short-handed, Illinois (1-8, 0-5) can now subtract two more impact players from the already-losing equation.

Illini coach Ron Turner said two freshman will miss the rest of the season – backup tailback Pierre Thomas and wide receiver Lonnie Hurst.

Thomas carried the ball 15 times for 70 yards in place of injured starter Ibrahim “E.B.” Halsey in Saturday’s 36-10 loss to Minnesota, but he bruised his hip in the process.

Hurst, who has 27 catches for 315 yards and a touchdown this season, broke his right leg in the second half while making a catch.

Their injuries come less than one week after last year’s Big Ten-leading passer, Jon Beutjer, was declared lost for the season with a herniated disc in his back.

In addition, Halsey will miss his second consecutive game this week, and starting receiver Kelvin Hayden is doubtful for the Illini’s matchup at Iowa with a high ankle sprain.

“I’ve been thinking back on different years as an assistant coach and head coach when I thought I had a lot of injuries. And I’ve never been through anything like this,” coach Ron Turner said.

Lions’ personal problems

The off-field issues continue to mount for a Penn State (2-6, 0-4) team already laboring on the field.

Lions coach Joe Paterno announced Tuesday that sophomore offensive guard Tommy McHugh has been kicked off the team. McHugh is accused of hitting a woman at around 2 a.m. Sunday near a campus parking garage.

Also, offensive tackle Damone Jones didn’t travel with the team to Iowa on Saturday because he broke a team rule about drinking during the week.

The dismissal and suspension come one week after wide receiver Tony Johnson was suspended for one game after being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Johnson will also sit out this Saturday’s game against No. 8 Ohio State, but Paterno was more concerned about how he was out late drinking during the week than about the arrest.

“You are talking about people who are kids that make mistakes and do dumb things,” Paterno said. “Tommy McHugh’s uncle played for me. Tommy did a dumb thing. He did it after I had talked to the squad on the plane telling everybody to behave and the whole bit. He didn’t. He has to suffer the consequences.”