Minnesota looks to Big Ten season after positive nonconference finale

Extra film time and tougher practices paid off against Colorado State.

Dan Miller

Minnesota football cornerback Ukee Dozier emerged from the visitor locker room at Hughes Stadium on Saturday with the same business-as-usual look he wore the Saturday before, at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

But after the Gophers’ 34-16 win over the Rams in Fort Collins, Colo., Dozier said he felt completely different from the week before.

The Gophers’ senior, who last week said he felt the 19th-ranked Gophers (3-0) weren’t sufficiently prepared against Illinois State, said the team was far more mentally prepared for Saturday’s game.

“The focus was way better than it was last week,” Dozier said. “We were all prepared this week. A lot of people got in and watched film (of the opposing team) – more than we normally do.”

The extra time appeared to pay off.

Defensively, the Gophers gave up more than 400 yards to the Rams. But they came up with four turnovers (including a Dozier interception) and looked far more determined and prepared than the week before.

That goes for the coaches, too.

Dozier gave some credit to defensive secondary coach David Lockwood for his interception in the fourth quarter Saturday.

Dozier said Lockwood, who called for pass coverage in the secondary, knew the Rams were going to pass on the play, and he even knew the route.

“I guess the coaches knew they were going to run the ‘smash’ route, and that’s what they did,” Dozier said.

Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said his entire defense played with better focus and made a step in the right direction.

“They played the defense that we called, and were very disciplined about it,” Hudson said.

The Gophers also rebounded in offensive discipline.

Minnesota coach Glen Mason, who was irate after the Gophers’ performance against the Redbirds, said Saturday that he was pleased with the progress his offense made in limiting their mistakes.

“I don’t know what was wrong with those guys last week,” he said. “I was happy with the way we spun.”

Minnesota’s offensive line, which committed four false-start penalties against Illinois State, had only one Saturday, and opened huge holes for running backs Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney to exploit.

And exploit they did.

Barber, who was named Big Ten offensive player of the week on Monday, had a career day, rushing for 201 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Maroney added 132 yards, averaging almost 8 yards per carry.

“We knew we didn’t play very good last week and that we needed to come out and play better,” Maroney said after the game Saturday.

It became apparent Saturday, that there might have been a kick behind the Gophers’ reformed attitude and focus.

But Maroney said it was obvious that the Gophers’ practices – not to mention the coaches’ demeanors – were anything but peachy last week.

“We practiced really hard last week and did a lot of physical work, so we were really focused,” he said.