Gophers whiffing on big play chances too often

by Brian Hall

During the third quarter of Minnesota’s football game against Buffalo last Saturday, junior Ben Utecht sprinted downfield without a defender within 10 yards of him.

Quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq saw the open tight end and tried to get him the ball, but the two were unable to hook up as the ball missed its target by 10 yards.

As coach Glen Mason estimated, the incomplete pass was one of three home runs the Gophers were unable to hit against the Bulls.

As Minnesota heads to Purdue this weekend, Mason is hoping to rectify the situation as he looks for bigger plays out of his offense.

“We have to figure out how to come up with big plays in our offense every game,” Mason said. “That can be the difference-maker. We need to make sure we can hit home runs instead of foul balls.”

Abdul-Khaliq leads the NCAA in passing efficiency (185.8), but is averaging a mere 179.3 passing yards per game – good for only ninth in the Big Ten.

The Gophers might need the big plays to offset a Purdue offense which has shredded the Minnesota defense in recent seasons.

Largely on the right arm of former quarterback Drew Brees, the Boilermakers have averaged 370.6 passing yards per game against the Gophers since Mason’s first year in 1997.

Minnesota is still searching for its first win against Purdue under Glen Mason’s tutelage.

Mason believes a total effort on offense is needed to improve the outcome. He said it will take a combined effort of establishing the run and combining that with an efficient passing game.

“They go hand in hand,” Mason said. “If you don’t have the ability to run the football people will gang up on the pass and it’s hard to do that. It’s easier to get big plays through the passing game than it is the run game.”

Kicking still needs work

even while at home, relaxing and watching “Monday Night Football,” Mason was still reminded of work to be done with his football team and his disappointment in the kicking game.

The broadcasters were discussing special teams breakdowns in the National Football League. According to Mason, they said you are seeing more experienced and proven star players involved in the kicking game.

“I started to think, ‘I am putting my first-line players in the kicking game too,'” Mason said. “But they aren’t experienced and they aren’t old. We are going to have to continue to do that and put our best players in. Hopefully we get better as we go.”

Mason has been upset with his special teams since the beginning of the year. Each unit ranked in the bottom half of the conference.

The Gophers have given up an average of 22.2 return yards on kickoffs and a 13.9 average, including one return for a touchdown, on punts. Minnesota has averaged 18.5 on kick returns and 9.3 yards per punt return.

Also, senior punter Preston Gruening is averaging a career-low 41.1 yards per punt.

“I have been very disappointed in the kicking game,” Mason said. “We have had too many breakdowns. I have given that a lot of thought, the approach and what we’re doing.

“We are young and you begin to wonder how much you can ask young players to do. Are you overloading them with responsibilities?”

Rogers running rampant

michigan State receiver Charles Rogers continues his stellar play.

Rogers caught seven balls for 175 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame last Saturday.

The preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year tied the NCAA mark for consecutive games with a touchdown reception in 12 straight games.

The mark was shared by Marshall’s Randy Moss, Pacific’s Aaron Turner and Michigan’s Desmond Howard.

Rogers also has compiled 100 yards receiving in eight straight contests and will look to continue both streaks as the Spartans host Northwestern this weekend.

Hitting paydirt

penn State freshman Michael Robinson tied the NCAA record for consecutive rushes for a touchdown in a game. Robinson scored the first three times he touched the ball in the Lions win over Louisiana Tech.

The mark equals the single-game record held by four others, including Howard Griffith of Illinois and current Hawkeye Aaron Greving.

The touchdowns also continued Robinson’s run of five scores in his last six touches, and four straight carries for touchdowns dating back to his last scoring run in Penn State’s win over Nebraska on Sept. 14.