Cockerham back in U huddle

by Michael Dougherty

Monday’s walk-through practice for the Gophers (4-3, 1-3 in the Big Ten) was short but eventful, with Billy Cockerham running the first-team offense before an early exit for night class.
But the coaches and players insist Cockerham’s elevation to first-team was the result of a mysterious thigh injury to Andy Persby rather than a demotion.
When Persby was told by reporters that Gophers coach Glen Mason said Cockerham was the No. 1 quarterback for the moment, he seemed a little shocked.
“I didn’t even know he was No. 1,” Persby said. “Coach Axman (quarterbacks coach Steve Axman) said, `You’re still the No. 1.’ That’s what he told me today. He said, `Just get back as fast as you can, I know you’re trying your hardest.'”
Persby said Saturday’s 13-for-37 performance wasn’t the greatest game he’s played, but it wasn’t the worst.
Meanwhile, he said he didn’t know when the injury to his thigh occurred, but he classified it as a thigh bruise. He will have a MRI Tuesday to determine the extent of the injury.
Axman and offensive coordinator Steve Loney both downplayed the situation at quarterback.
“Actually it was more of the fact that Andy had an injury,” Axman said. “He just got dinged so he stayed out today. We definitely struggled on Saturday, and Billy was certainly a major spark plug for us, but we haven’t made a decision yet.”
Loney said he was not trying to skirt the issue, adding it’s simply too early to know who will start Saturday’s home game against No. 22 Michigan (5-2, 4-0).
“It’s the ultimate decision of the head coach,” Loney said. “Everybody wants to make it a controversy or something negative, but the positive thing is we’ve got two guys who can both contribute to helping us win.”
Player of the Week squared
Good things apparently come to the Gophers in bunches. As if Saturday’s streak-busting win over Michigan State wasn’t enough, two Minnesota players garnered honors from the Big Ten conference.
Gophers wide receiver Luke Leverson was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and kicker Adam Bailey was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week.
Leverson caught 10 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. He also returned seven punts for 106 yards, including a 68-yarder for a touchdown in the 19-18 upset win.
Bailey hit the game-winning 37-yard field goal with 13 seconds left to end Minnesota’s 17-game losing streak to the Spartans.
Bailey, who had earlier missed from 32 yards, also kicked a first-quarter 33-yarder and put the Gophers in the position to make the game-winning drive with a perfect on-side kick with under two minutes remaining.
Parc should’ve pitched it
After Bailey kicked what would be the game-winner, Michigan State got the ball back with nine seconds left — just enough time for one play.
Spartans quarterback Ryan Van Dyke got hit as he tried to heave a long pass, and Gophers linebacker Parc Williams intercepted the pass and returned it 46 yards before being knocked out of bounds just short of the goal line.
During Williams’ seemingly slow motion romp, defensive back Craig Scruggs offered some help to the huffing and puffing Parc.
“I was telling him to pitch it to me, because you need a little more speed to get into the end zone,” Scruggs said.
Williams, meanwhile, said he was more worried about holding onto the ball instead of hitting pay dirt.
“I saw Craig and I was thinking I better not pitch it at this point because I didn’t want to give them (Michigan State) a chance to get the ball. I just came up a little short of the end zone,” he said.