Running game key to win over Wildcats

F By Brian Hall and Brian Stensaas

following last Thursday’s victory over Illinois, Minnesota football coach Glen Mason was pleased the Gophers were able to carry the ball 56 times to the tune of 302 yards.

After this week’s contest, Mason might be ecstatic.

The task of establishing the ground game appears a little easier when Minnesota hosts Northwestern Thursday.

The Gophers feature the third-best rushing offense in the Big Ten and the 15th-ranked attack in the nation, averaging 226.7 yards on the ground.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats have the worst rushing defense in the conference, giving up an average 304.8 yards per game.

“On paper it looks like we will be able to run the ball,” quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said. “But that doesn’t matter. It looks like a mismatch, but we still just have to see this Thursday how it plays out.”

Against Illinois, running backs Terry Jackson II and Thomas Tapeh each gained more than 100 yards rushing.

Jackson has led Minnesota’s rushing offense with 554 yards this year. Tapeh, finally healthy after three injury-riddled years, has chipped in with 401 yards on the ground.

As Minnesota held a 31-10 advantage in the fourth quarter against the Illini, Tapeh carried the ball 10 times in 12 plays during a 15-play drive in which the Gophers took nearly eight minutes off the clock.

“You can look at one game and say you ran for 300 yards,” Mason said. “Am I happy about that? Yeah. But we need to be a consistent performer in passing and running. I think we are getting better.

“The difference right now is the big play is there. They are there for the taking and we have to take them.”

Last Thursday, Jackson started two separate Minnesota scoring drives with runs of more than 30 yards.

With Northwestern giving up an average of 5.4 yards per run, it’s quite possible the Gophers could improve on their season-best 302-yard output for Thursday’s Homecoming.

No health problems?

as of Tuesday, Mason said he doesn’t expect any of his players to miss Thursday’s game.

Abdul-Khaliq, who has been bothered by a sore ankle since the Purdue game, said he fully expects to play against the Wildcats.

Bye-bye, bye week

rather than scheduling a bye week in the middle of its conference season, Ohio State opted to go outside the Big Ten and host San Jose State this Saturday for Homecoming.

The abnormal scheduling move, set a few years back, is a benefit to coach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes.

“The best time for a bye week is when you’re a little banged up,” said Tressel, whose team had the second Saturday of the season off. “But sometimes when you have a little momentum going, it’s nice just to keep on moving. And in our case, that’s the way we have to look at this game Saturday.”

Iowa, on the other hand, has its bye week scheduled for the end of the season, leaving nothing to be interrupted.

“I hate bye weeks,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It gives the team a little rest maybe, but they’re very tough to deal with. We’ve tried a lot of things in a lot of different places I’ve been, including Iowa, and I sure don’t have a good formula. I’m not real comfortable with them.”

Upon further review Ö

much has been made of the Big Ten’s decision to reprimand four officials who worked the Purdue-Wake Forest game Sept. 21.

The conference has declined to say which of the seven officials working the game were disciplined or for how long. But Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said in a statement, “During the course of the game, these officials did not officiate well enough to meet Big Ten standards. Therefore, they will forfeit future officiating assignments.”

One possible solution has been to implement instant replay into college football. Coaches in the conference have mixed reactions.

“If it is at all feasible, we should certainly look into it given all that is riding on some of the games,” Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. “You hate to take the game away from the kids. They’re out there playing, they should decide the game. If we can make it work, I’d certainly agree with it.”

Penn State coach Joe Paterno, in his 53rd year with the Lions, holds an opposite opinion.

“I’m too much of a traditionalist,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem right that we can’t live with some of the calls made by officials. And if there’s continually a series of errors by the same people, then yeah, get rid of them.”

Brian Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]. Brian Stensaas welcomes comments at [email protected]