Gophers slide past Indians with 35-0 win

David La

After beating Louisiana-Monroe, Gophers football coach Glen Mason appeared about as frustrated as any coach whose team turned in a 35-0 win only minutes ago could be.
Mason — while giving his take on the ineptitude of the passing game — rubbed his head in a manner that suggested he was ready to scream.
The Gophers put the wrecking ball to Louisiana-Monroe with a 35-0 win on Saturday night at the Metrodome, thanks in large part to their defense. Minnesota allowed the Indians a meager 122 yards of total offense, and recorded the team’s first shutout since 1990. Mason’s assessment of the performance was less than glowing, however.
“I wasn’t pleased with our offense,” Mason said. “We improved our running game, but the number of times we have had good field position but didn’t move the ball and score was unacceptable.”
Led by senior running back Thomas Hamner’s 33 carries for 174 yards and three touchdowns, the running game made up for an atrocious outing by senior quarterback Billy Cockerham.
Cockerham ended up 4 of 15 for 36 yards with two interceptions. After his second interception, backup Andy Persby replaced Cockerham late in the third quarter. Persby attempted only two passes, completing one for five yards.
While Cockerham struggled with his touch on short routes, and his accuracy when he went down field, Hamner scampered through gaping holes blasted open by his line all evening.
“I’m just glad we won,” Hamner said. “We tried to balance (passing and running) out the best way that we can. But in any game if the running game is on, than that’s what we’re going to stick with until they stop it.”
There was no stopping the Gophers surging ground game, but several penalties — including a holding call that nullified a 31-yard Cockerham run for a touchdown — gave Mason more reason to be concerned.
“I always judge my team on, `Are we doing the best we can,’ and right now we’re making way too many mistakes,” Mason said, sighting the teams’ delay of game penalty and a “wasted” timeout, both of which took place in the first quarter.
Although the offense was a one-sided running affair, the defense threw themselves a party in the Indians backfield, and all were invited.
The Gophers inspired defense took down Indians quarterback Andy Chance seven times, scored a touchdown on an interception, and recovered one fumble. Even Mason had to concede that his defense was almost flawless.
“They look like they have a lot of fun playing football,” Mason said of his unit. “We’re aggressive, getting after it and making plays right now. Obviously we put some pressure on the quarterback.”
Pressure came from all over, as defensive end Karon Riley (three sacks) and defensive tackle John Schlecht (two sacks, forced fumble) came down on Chance like a maroon and gold anvil. Linebacker Ben Mezera also collected a pair of sacks.
“We benefit each other, I push them to Schlecht, Schlecht pushes them to me,” Riley said. “We compliment each other.”
Another example of defensive teamwork came in the second quarter when a blitzing Tyrone Carter obliterated Indians replacement quarterback Ben Beach. After Carter hit the Beach, the resulting wobbly pass was graciously taken 26 yards for a score by cornerback Willie Middlebrooks. It was the Gophers’ first interception return for a touchdown since 1995.
“I just got a good break on the ball,” Middlebrooks said of his pickoff. While he did not see Carter’s hit at the time, Middlebrooks said, “I saw the replay. It was a good hit. He’s a hard hitter, so I expect that out of him.”
Not to be left out of the scoring picture, the Gophers special teams were successful for the second straight game in blocking an opponents’ punt. Junior Trevis Graham got through for the block, which caromed some 15 feet in the air. Freshman Tellis Redmon won the jump ball from the punter and ran 15 yards for the score.
With scores on the evening from his offense, defense and special teams; his defense pitching a shutout; and most importantly getting a win for the bowl-hopeful Gophers, Mason could be forgiven if he reveled just a little in his team performance.
But the coach offered no such sentiment, sighting only that, “You don’t get fired for winning 35-0.”
And apparently, you don’t get fired up if it’s only Louisiana-Monroe.

Rushing — Hamner 33-174 3 TDs; Evans 7-42; Leverson 2-10; Cockerham 3-8; Bruce 1-5
Passing — Cockerham 4-15 36, 2 INTs; Persby 1-2 5
Receiving — Hamner 1-12; Johnson 1-11; Hass 1-7; Leverson 1-6; Bruce 1-5
Attendance: 38,137
David La Vaque covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]