Coach Glen Mason spent the better part of last week telling anyone who would listen that his quarterback, senior Billy Cockerham, should not be the hub of the criticism for the inept passing performance against Louisiana-Monroe.
However, Mason knew that a 4 of 15 for 36 yards and two interception showing could not go unchallenged. To that end, Mason offered his signal caller some subtle advice to make his point.
“I remember telling Billy, ‘When you’re a kid growing up playing playground football, everybody wanted to be the quarterback, no one wanted to be the left guard. But if you’re the quarterback and you miss the wide open receiver, you know what happens? The left guard became the quarterback and the quarterback became the left guard.’ I guess he got my drift.”
Cockerham caught the drift in practice and as a result caught fire Saturday. Cockerham’s statistics in the Gophers 55-7 win versus Illinois State included 374 total yards from scrimmage, an 82 percent completion rate, four touchdowns, no turnovers and zero appearances at the left guard position.
“I knew I had to bounce back,” Cockerham said. “The whole offensive unit had to bounce back after the passing game performance that we put on last week. I knew in my own heart that I had to play a lot better than what I did last week.”
Last week it was running back Thomas Hamner who rolled up the big yardage figures in what amounted to a one-dimensional attack. This week, a resurrected passing game helped make the final offensive numbers almost dead even. The Gophers ran for 287 yards and passed for 284.
Cockerham got things going right away with a 56-yard touchdown scamper on the Gophers opening drive. On the team’s second drive, Cockerham found long snapper Derek Rackley (who was eligible) for a table-setting 44-yard pass to the Redbirds’ 2-yard line.
Cockerham would go on to put on a show that would make United Parcel Service proud, leading the offense on the ground and through the air for four touchdowns on its first six possessions.
“Billy Cockerham had a career day,” Mason would say afterward.
While he surpassed his previous best for rushing yards in a game with 156, besting his old record of 65, Cockerham also showed an ability to spread around the ol’ pigskin, as he hooked up with seven receivers on the day for 218 yards on 18 of 22 passing and a pair of touchdowns.
While the Gophers had an obvious athletic advantage, Cockerham’s numerous audibles were also of great importance to passing game. When the Redbirds showed a blitz, Cockerham had the answer.
After the game, Cockerham showed all the emotion of a card shark. He spoke of relief and satisfaction, but followed that up with the need to focus on the Big Ten opener at Northwestern on Oct. 2.
“I think (today) really helped our unit,” Cockerham said. “We didn’t perform well last week and we wanted to come out and have a big game before going into the Big Ten season.”
Like his inspired work on the field Saturday, it seems Cockerham’s unwavering mental approach is due in no small part to the steady hand of Mason. The coach was able to find a new way to state his tried-and-true philosophy on credit and blame distribution.
“Billy had a good day today, but he’s not the only reason we had a good day,” Mason said. “Billy did not have a good day last week, but he was not the only reason why we didn’t have a good day last week offensively. It all goes together.”
David La Vaque covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]