Cupito, Pinnix, Russell star in offensive spring game

The first-team offense rolled over the first-team defense on its only two drives.

Matt Perkins

This year, there was no team scoring in the Minnesota football spring game.

Still, the winners and losers were clear-cut in Saturday’s live scrimmage at the Metrodome.

The Gophers’ first-team offense picked apart the first-team defense with ease on its only two drives. Each 70-yard march culminated with a rushing touchdown, one each for sophomores Amir Pinnix and Gary Russell.

Junior quarterback Bryan Cupito was very efficient in the scrimmage. He completed six of eight passes for 74 yards. Both of his incompletions came on dropped passes, one of which would have gone for a touchdown to Ernie Wheelwright.

Even with all of the offense’s success, defensive coordinator David Lockwood was not disheartened by his unit’s performance.

“We’ve made the strides that we wanted to make so far this spring,” Lockwood said. “In the defense, that was being a better swarming and a better tackling team, being more physical, and we’ve done that. We’re headed in that direction.”

For most of the afternoon against Russell and Pinnix, the defense didn’t have a chance to show off its tackling. The running backs, who were playing with the first team for a still-banged up Laurence Maroney, had the benefit of huge holes almost every time they touched the ball.

Russell gained 112 yards with two touchdowns on 10 carries, while Pinnix carried the ball 10 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Russell had touchdown runs of 57 and 19 yards, and Pinnix scored from one yard and 44 yards.

“When you step up with the (first team), you’ve got to step your game up that extra notch,” Pinnix said. “So I feel as though today we came out and we did that.”

With Minnesota’s run-heavy offense and Marion Barber III’s departure for the NFL in January, the battle for second-string running back this spring has been centerstage.

Coach Glen Mason said both sophomores vying for the job finished spring practice on the right note.

“I felt that both Gary Russell and Amir Pinnix had pretty good springs,” Mason said. “But they played better today. When it was time to finish off strong, they looked pretty good.”

Although the running backs impressed Mason, it was at the expense of their own defense.

Senior safety John Pawielski said ending the spring season as poorly as the defense had could act as a motivator heading into the season.

“It leaves kind of a sour taste in your mouth for the next three or four months,” he said. “So it’ll be good. (It won’t) let us get our heads too big, because we did have a pretty good spring.”

And Lockwood said part of the reason for his defense’s poor performance was the offense it was going up against.

“We’ve got (Mark) Setterstrom; we’ve got (Greg) Eslinger up front,” he said. “Those guys, you’re talking All-American, All-Big Ten. There aren’t too many guys that much better in conference that we’ll see every day. So, yeah, in the long run, it’s going to help us out.”

Special teams impress

Minnesota’s special teams came up with two blocks in the game Saturday.

Reserve cornerback Jamal Harris blocked Joel Monroe’s 51-yard field goal attempt. Later, wide receiver Jakari Wallace blocked a Justin Kucek punt that Dominique Barber returned 27 yards for a touchdown.

Despite the block, Kucek again put in a punting performance that Mason said was solid.

“Really, all during the spring, Kucek has done a very good job punting the ball,” Mason said. “And you saw him punt the ball well today.”