Horton, Gophers got nothin’ to lose

Josh Katzenstein

Jeff Horton is in a strange position.

After just seven games as the Minnesota co-offensive coordinator, heâÄôs been cast as interim head coach in place of Tim Brewster, who was fired Sunday.

The next five games could serve as HortonâÄôs application for the vacant head-coaching gig, for which a nationwide search is already underway. And while Horton said heâÄôs thinking about the implications of the next five games for the players instead of himself, he admits heâÄôs coaching against the odds.

âÄúI donâÄôt know what the odds are if somebody posted them right now of me being the head coach here,âÄù Horton said, âÄúbut if you put five dollars down, you could retire if that happened.âÄù

Trust Horton on this one. The 53-year-old spent 18 years in the state of Nevada as a player (Nevada) and coach (Nevada and Nevada-Las Vegas).

Horton likes gambling, he said, and although that could be a character flaw for some, it could provide a spark for a man âÄî and a team âÄî with nothing to lose.

âÄúIf it doesnâÄôt work,âÄù Horton said of his plan to open up the playbook, âÄúyou think theyâÄôll fire you twice?âÄù

After weeks of speculation about BrewsterâÄôs job security, itâÄôs time for the Gophers to have some fun. The pressure to win and silence BrewsterâÄôs critics continued to pile up since Minnesota fell to South Dakota on Sept. 11.

For senior quarterback Adam Weber, though, having fun was never a problem. HeâÄôs going to school on a full-ride scholarship and plays a sport every day. He said if the players arenâÄôt having fun, then theyâÄôre in the wrong place.

But winning is obviously more fun than losing, which the Gophers (1-6, 0-3 Big Ten) have done for six weeks in a row.

âÄúLosing is not fun, but playing football is,âÄù Weber said. âÄúInstead of working a nine-to-five, I get to go out and throw a football around a little bit.âÄù

Weber might not be the only one slinging the ball Saturday if Horton reverts to his gambling ways.

Penn State (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten) could see a flurry of deep balls and trick plays, from halfback passes (seen earlier this year) to moving quarterback/wide receiver MarQueis Gray through numerous roles. When the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Gray is on the field, the options are endless. The deep plays to wide receiver DaâÄôJon McKnight seen late in recent games could also come earlier.

âÄúWhatever works,âÄù Gray said about the possibility of trick plays. âÄúWhatever puts points on the board. If they want me to do it, IâÄôm all for it.âÄù

But the GophersâÄô problems this season stem from fundamentals as opposed to play calling, a duty Horton will hand off to the sole offensive coordinator Thomas Hammock.

At Purdue last week, the Gophers had a touchdown taken away because of a penalty and another because of linebacker Gary TinsleyâÄôs ill-timed slippery hands. Because of these and other flaws, Horton said he plans to overemphasize fundamentals in the faster-paced practices this week.

Defensive end Brandon Kirksey agrees with that emphasis on fundamentals is needed for a defense that ranks last in the Big Ten in points allowed and stopping opponents on third down.

âÄúYou canâÄôt really run a trick play,âÄù Kirksey said, âÄúif youâÄôre not a stout defense.âÄù

Both Horton and co-defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove will be coming down from their field-viewing box Saturday to the field. Horton said CosgroveâÄôs veteran leadership could provide a spark for a defense that desperately needs one.

On Saturday, the Gophers will see whether or not sparks and gambles will be enough to give a desperate team a win.

âÄúWeâÄôve got five more games. Our head coach is gone so why not?âÄù Kirksey said. âÄúWhy not just do whatever and have as much fun as possible?âÄù