Redbirds may pose problems

Michael Dougherty

The Gophers football team given up a miserly seven points against two of Division I’s weaker teams, and with a Division I-AA team coming into town for a game on Saturday, it would seem obvious the low scoring will continue.
But Illinois State (2-0) isn’t your regular I-AA school, thanks to quarterback Kevin Glenn, who has led the Redbirds to six straight games with 40 or more points.
Glenn comes into Saturday’s game having completed 46-of-65 passes for 548 yards, with four touchdowns passing and two rushing touchdowns in his team’s first two games. That’s an efficiency rating of 158.82. By contrast, Gophers quarterback Billy Cockerham’s rating is 100.35.
A junior from Detroit, Glenn needs only 608 yards to become the Redbirds all-time leading passer. Gophers coach Glen Mason said Glenn presents a number of problems for his defense.
“They have an outstanding quarterback in Kevin Glenn,” Mason said. “He reminds me a lot of the guy at Indiana, except this guy’s a lot better passer.”
The guy at Indiana is, of course, super-sophomore Antwaan Randle El and comparisons like that are not handed out lightly by Mason on a regular basis.
Mason said he was particularly impressed with the efficiency with which Glenn runs the Redbirds’ offense, describing it as “an offense executed to perfection.”
“One unique thing is he never gets sacked,” Mason said of Glenn. “He avoids sacks better than any quarterback I’ve ever seen. He gets out of trouble somehow; some way he gets rid of the ball and doesn’t let you tackle him for a sack.”
Glenn and the Gophers’ quick, swarming defense should create a pretty good match-up for the Redbirds. Minnesota leads the Big Ten with 11 sacks, five of which have come from the Big Ten leader, defensive end Karon Riley.
Illinois State, meanwhile, hasn’t given up a sack in their two games this season, a 41-9 win against Truman State and a 55-7 thumping of Southeast Missouri State, and the Redbirds gave up only 13 all of last year.
Redbirds coach Todd Berry said that although Glenn doesn’t have the size of a prototypical Big Ten quarterback at 5-feet 10-inches, 190 pounds, but he fits the Redbirds offense like a glove.
“He’s athletic, he’s smart and he’s very cool under pressure,” Berry said. “And I think the rest of the players really have confidence in the way he plays. As long as he’s out on the field they believe he can make something happen at anytime.”
Although the Gophers defense is playing well, Berry said it’s Minnesota’s special teams play that gives him the most worries, the punt coverage team in particular.
Gophers free safety Delvin Jones and secondary partner cornerback Trevis Graham are combining to become legitimate scoring threats by blocking punts.
One or the other has been involved in five different punt blocks during the past two seasons (three touchdowns and two safeties), and Berry said their play makes him nervous.
“The tightest person on Saturday afternoon is going to be me every time our punt team comes on the field because it is a scary proposition,” he said. “Not just from the sense that they’ve done a terrific job of blocking punts from a schematic standpoint and from an athletic standpoint, but they’ve also got a tremendous returner (free safety Tyrone Carter) — it’s a double-edged sword.
“We might go for it on fourth down. It would probably be a little safer than taking the chance of having a punt blocked or returned for a touchdown.”
Note: Gophers center Ben Hamilton will likely have his 25-game start streak stopped Saturday thanks to a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery on Monday. Akeem Akinwale will take Hamilton’s place. Sophomore right guard Ryan Roth is listed as questionable, meaning redshirt-freshman Jake Kuppe, from Minnetonka, will probably get his first start at right tackle. Current right tackle Josh Rawlings will move from tackle to Roth’s spot at right guard.

Michael Dougherty covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]