Quarterback dual highlights spring game

Adam Ernst and Bryan Cupito were both on display in the annual scrimmage.

Adam Fink

Minnesota quarterback Adam Ernst might have put up more impressive numbers than his counterpart during the Gophers football annual spring scrimmage Saturday at the Metrodome, but Bryan Cupito got the last laugh and it appears it is his job to lose heading into fall camp.

Ernst, a junior college transfer competing for the White team (essentially the second-team offense and first-team defense), completed 9 of 14 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown.

But Cupito, assigned to the Maroon team (first offense), completed 9 of 16 passes for 68 yards and threw a touchdown pass to fullback Justin Valentine with 44 seconds remaining to give his squad a 21-20 victory.

On the score, Cupito took the snap at the 3-yard line and rolled to his right as the play broke down. The sophomore threw across his body to Valentine, who was near the middle of the end zone.

While the victory was marred – Goldy Gopher had a 53-yard touchdown run for the Maroon team in the first half as the defense gave mock pursuit – Minnesota coach Glen Mason saw enough of Cupito to come away impressed.

“I think that going into two-a-days (next fall) he is our guy,” Mason said. “He has got more experience, and I think for his first spring practice being the No. 1 quarterback running a veteran group, he is doing a fine job.”

Mason didn’t close the door on Ernst, however. He said each player has a lot to prove.

Both quarterbacks also realize the competition to start isn’t close to ending.

“It has taken me a little while to learn the system, and come two-a-days I am going to be ready and (Saturday) was a good step for that,” said Ernst, who appeared calm in the pocket. “The main goal of spring practice for everybody is just to get better every day, and I felt better (Saturday).”

The duo also found their receiving corps to be solid during the scrimmage.

Freshman Micah Rucker caught three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown, and Mark Jundt added five catches for 95 yards for the White team.

The few thousand fans at the Metrodome also caught a glimpse of Paris Hamilton’s game-changing ability.

Hamilton had one catch for 18 yards and three rushes for 12 yards. While those numbers didn’t distinguish him, returning to a game setting – albeit a simulated one – was a big step.

“I told him when he was done ‘You’re back.’ ” Mason said. “He took some hits and he made big plays and we need him.”

The Gophers first-team defense was also impressive. Cupito was under pressure all afternoon and, other than a 54-yard Laurence Maroney touchdown run, the defense limited Minnesota’s offense.

On Maroney’s run, the defense blitzed and the running back cut to the outside where he got blocking from his wide receivers.

“We are not a good blitz team right now,” Mason said. “Against the run – we’re not.”

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Backup running back Amir Pinnix made a case for himself as the Gophers third running back.

The freshman ran 12 times for 44 yards and showed he is ready for an increased role this season.

“I just wanted to work hard and showcase my talents,” Pinnix said.

Barber injured

A deep sigh of relief came from the Gophers sideline after Marion Barber III was only diagnosed with a twisted left knee.

Barber was tackled in the third quarter. The defender grabbed his left leg and Barber’s right leg went beneath his body.

Barber lay on the turf for a few minutes before walking off and did not return to the game.

Mason likes new turf

Defensive tackle Darrell Reid said Barber’s injury would have easily been a lot worse – possibly an anterior cruciate ligament tear – if not for the new turf.

The turf – installed right before the Twins’ season began – is a soft, fiber surface that feels similar to real grass. Rubber granules built into the field help make the surface cushiony.

Prior to installation, the Metrodome used a hard turf that was painful to land on and was known to cause injuries.

“Compared to what we used to play on, it’s unbelievable,” Mason said. “Thank goodness it’s here. It should have been here five, six, seven years ago.”

While the new field will slow down the Gophers’ speed, it should produce a safer playing field.

The Gophers also have a similar field turf at their practice facility at the Bierman athletics complex.