Spann runs all over Gophers

by John Hageman

Northern Illinois running back Chad Spann quickly got used to the open pastures the state of Minnesota is known for, because there were plenty of them in the middle of TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday night. The senior needed only 15 carries to amass 223 yards on the ground against an out-of-sorts Minnesota defense that left gaping holes at the line of scrimmage and allowed six rushes of 29 yards or more to the HuskiesâÄô running backs. The Huskies tallied 297 rushing yards on 28 attempts with the help of Cameron Bell and Ricky Crider, an average of more than 10 yards per carry. The Gophers knew they needed to account for quarterback Chandler Harnish, who led the Huskies in rushing for the first three games of the season, but Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill said his team made adjustments based on how much teams were keying in on his mobile quarterback. âÄúThey werenâÄôt going to let [Harnish] run the ball,âÄù Kill said. âÄúAnd so therefore, the backs were able to have some success. They bring nine in the box, you have got to be able to throw the football, so itâÄôs just kind of a cat-and-mouse game.âÄù The Gophers have had trouble containing mobile quarterbacks in recent memory. South DakotaâÄôs Dante Warren rushed for 81 yards on 10 carries two weeks ago, and the last time the Gophers gave up 200 yards to a single rusher like they did Saturday was in 2008 to former Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka. Harnish ended the game Saturday with six rushes for just seven yards, but finished off drives with his arm when the Huskies running backs drove the team into the Minnesota redzone. The Huskies didnâÄôt get into the end zone on their first five big runs of the game, but finally broke through when Spann shed several Minnesota tacklers on his way to a 61-yard touchdown run in the middle of the fourth quarter. âÄúYou just see the open field and you see the end zone, and you just have to think, âÄòrun as fast as you can,âÄô âÄù Spann said. âÄúAnd stay away from the opposite-colored jersey âĦ and just try to get as many yards as I can.âÄù Spann didnâÄôt necessarily need to stay away from the maroon jerseys, as he was able to run straight through an abundance of missed tackles. SpannâÄôs ability to run, as well as MinnesotaâÄôs inability to tackle him, was, as Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said, âÄúthe name of the game.âÄù While the Huskies were running at will against Minnesota, the Gophers again failed to establish their identity as a power-rushing team, gaining just 97 yards on 32 attempts for just more than 3 yards a carry, a slight improvement from the 2.2 they averaged against USC. The Gophers didnâÄôt have a run longer than 12 yards Saturday, and their only breakthrough, Duane BennettâÄôs 55-yard touchdown run early in the fourth, was negated on a questionable holding call. Northern Illinois allowed 319 yards on the ground to Illinois the previous week, so Kill was content that Minnesota senior quarterback Adam WeberâÄôs 373 yards came through the air, not on the ground. âÄúAs a head coach, I donâÄôt want the ball run down my throat; I donâÄôt like it,âÄù Kill said. âÄúIf IâÄôm going to get beat by Minnesota, IâÄôd rather have them throw for 373 than run for 373.âÄù Saturday nightâÄôs game wasnâÄôt the first time this season the Gophers have been beaten by big plays. In fact, it seems to be plaguing this young group of defenders. The Gophers had a lead for all of 12 seconds against then-No.18 USC, only to have it taken away with a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown by Robert Woods. The previous week against South Dakota, the Gophers gave up seven plays of 25 yards or more to the FCS member on their way to a 41-38 loss. âÄúWe just werenâÄôt where we were supposed to be at certain times, and thatâÄôs demoralizing to a defense at times,âÄù senior cornerback Ryan Collado said of the defensive performance. âÄúWe didnâÄôt execute the defenses, and thatâÄôs on us.âÄù Related: – Gophers lose third straight home gameNotebook: Fire Brewster chants flare upGophers vs. N. Iowa Live Blog
Pregame blog
Minnesota looking for much-needed momentum against N. Illinois (9/22)
WR Stoudermire ‘no longer a Gopher’ (9/23)
Notebook: Royston not likely to play Saturday (9/21)