Gophers try to stay on their toes

Dan Miller

It appears Minnesota’s football team impressed even itself Saturday against Toledo.

The Gophers scored on nine of their 10 drives and racked up 704 yards – the second-highest single-game total in school history. After the game, many Gophers players said they expected more competition, and coach Glen Mason said Tuesday he was surprised Toledo wasn’t better.

He said he thought Toledo was going to be a tough opponent, “Ö based on who they had coming back and how they were ranked and everything.”

While he might have been surprised at Toledo’s subpar performance, he said after fall practices he expected the Gophers to play sharp in their season opener.

On Tuesday, Mason credited the Gophers’ dominant performance against the Rockets to what he called “extremely physical” fall practices.

Following those practices, the 22nd-ranked Gophers appear poised to remain one of the nation’s leading offensive teams.

Granted, the Gophers and most teams in the nation have played only one game.

But after their performance against the Mid-American

Conference preseason favorite Rockets, Minnesota’s Saturday matchup with Division I-AA Illinois State could get ugly.

Still, Minnesota sophomore safety John Pawielski said the Gophers are trying to sustain their tough practices, even as they prepare for what could be a very lopsided duel with the Redbirds.

“We’ve really got to get up for (Illinois State),” he said. “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. That’s the attitude you have to take.”

The game against the Redbirds will be the Gophers’ first game against a Division I-AA school since they played Southwest Texas State during the 2002 season.

Division I-A Baylor University was supposed to be the Gophers’ next opponent. But the Bears optioned out of the contract last year, and Illinois State was inserted as the replacement.

“Regardless of who you are playing, you look back and evaluate, ‘are you getting better or are you getting worse as a team?’ ” Mason said. “One year when I was at Kansas we got beat 63-10, and I thought we played extremely well and got a lot better from the week before.”

Quarterback Bryan Cupito, who was 10-for-12 for 279 yards and a touchdown in his first collegiate start, said even he could improve from the week before.

Despite his 206-yard first quarter against Toledo that included four 40-plus-yard completions, he said he could improve the timing of his passes.

He said co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tony Peterson gave him a negative evaluation on one of his long passes to Jared Ellerson because he had so many hitches in his throw.

Also, Mason reiterated Tuesday that he was disappointed with the performance of his reserve defensive players who played late in Saturday’s game and allowed 14 of Toledo’s 21 points in the final 8:48.

“We were very disappointed with how our down-the-line guys played on defense when they had a chance to play,” Mason said.

He added that along with working on the defensive players, he will continue concentrating on fundamentals during practice as the team continues “getting better.”