Gophers looking for fresh start in conference play

Gophers looking for fresh start in conference play

John Hageman

With all the speculation and negativity surrounding Tim Brewster and the Minnesota football team, itâÄôs easy to forget that at one time the Gophers were a nationally-ranked team under the embattled coach.

The Gophers had 7-1 record and were the No. 20 ranked team in the country in BrewsterâÄôs second year at the helm in 2008, before losing in a homecoming heartbreaker to Northwestern on an interception touchdown with 12 seconds left in the game. The Gophers lost their last four games of the regular season, including a 55-0 loss at the hands of Iowa in the GophersâÄô last game at the Metrodome.

The Gophers (1-3) are looking for a different kind of homecoming turnaround against the same team Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, the Big Ten season opener.

Despite the GophersâÄô three straight losses at home, Brewster sees Saturday as an opportunity to start the season fresh.

âÄú[The] reality is that weâÄôre a 1-3 team and thatâÄôs very disappointing,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúBut as I told our football team on SundayâĦweâÄôre 0-0 in the Big Ten.âÄù

The mantra of the starting a new season fresh is evident in the Gibson-Nagurski complex, with âÄú0-0âÄù signs posted near the practice field. But for the players itâÄôs more than just a saying, itâÄôs a state of mind.

Freshman safety James Manuel said the past week of practice has felt like the week going into the season opener against Middle Tennessee, back to when they actually were 0-0.

âÄúWe did a pretty good job of doing what we did before week one,âÄù Manuel said. âÄúYou gotta have a clean slateâĦ[the Big Ten] is still up for grabs.âÄù

Although the Gophers struggled to stop big plays in the last three games, sophomore linebacker Keanon Cooper said the defense has seen every kind of scheme an offense can throw at them, especially the spread offense that Northwestern runs, which better prepares them for their conference slate.

âÄúThe preseason is just to get us prepared for the Big Ten,âÄù Cooper said. âÄúIt all comes down to winning our conference and thatâÄôs one of our main goalsâĦthatâÄôs our mindset right now.âÄù

The Gophers will face a new threat in NorthwesternâÄôs first-year starting quarterback junior Dan Persa, who already leads the nation in passing efficiency at 186.3, completing just over 80 percent of his passes in four games this season.

To take away PersaâÄôs accuracy, Brewster said the Gophers will try to put pressure on him and make him uncomfortable.

Manuel said he was surprised that he heard Northwestern wanted to run the ball âÄúdown our throatsâÄù even with their pass-heavy offense, but it may have something to do with how much the GophersâÄô have struggled in stopping the run. Minnesota currently ranks last in the Big Ten with 187.8 yards allowed on the ground. Northern Illinois amassed almost 300 yards on the ground last week.

Should the Gophers halt the potentially high-powered Wildcats offense, they have an opportunity to finally chalk up a home win. But creating chances isnâÄôt enough for Brewster; he wants the team to capitalize.

âÄúThere’s nobody that has beat us to the point where we didn’t have an opportunity to win the football games,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúWith players, just like fathers do with sons, you’ve got to help them through and you’ve got to make them understand why we didn’t win those games and why we’re not 4-0 right now and 1-3.âÄù

Stoudermire returnsâĦon defense

Junior Troy Stoudermire rejoined the Minnesota football team this week after being reinstated for a âÄúself-inflictedâÄù suspension that coach Tim Brewster said was âÄúconduct detrimental to the team.âÄù

Before practice Tuesday, he addressed the team in part to explain why he posted a status that said he was âÄúno longer a gopher.âÄù

âÄúI came back, talked to the team or whatever, put the little situation that we had behind me earlier last week and IâÄôm ready to just start off fresh,âÄù Stoudermire said. âÄúI apologized to the team. They accepted me back, and IâÄôm just ready to take it from there.âÄù

Stoudermire wonâÄôt return to wide receiver, however, instead Brewster said he will utilize Stoudermire on the other side of the ball at cornerback.

âÄúHeâÄôs a very good athlete, and he can play man coverage and he can play it well,âÄù Brewster said, âÄúso that gives him a chance to really uncomplicated things for him on the defensive side of the ball.âÄù

Brewster said the move is not in response to the play of the defensive backs but rather to provide more depth. The Gophers have enough depth at receiver, Brewster said.

âÄúI think I can help the defense a lot,âÄù Stoudermire said. âÄúI came here to play DB anyway. IâÄôm a very athletic kid, so IâÄôm pretty sure that it wonâÄôt be hard to play DB.âÄù

Stoudermire started the 2008 season as a cornerback before switching to offense. In 2009, he had 26 receptions for 306 yards and two touchdowns. Through three games (he missed the fourth with the suspension) he had six receptions for 114 yards and a score.

Stoudermire is listed as both the kickoff returner and punt returner for SaturdayâÄôs game.