Football players eager for another chance

by Brett Angel

In the moments following the Gophers’ 38-35 loss to Michigan last Friday night, an emotional Asad Abdul-Khaliq predicted the tears probably would not stop until Tuesday.

After three days to reflect and collect themselves, Tuesday arrived without a tear in sight. Instead, Minnesota football players appeared infused with newfound enthusiasm that their team still possesses the talent and moxy to achieve all its preseason goals, beginning with a win Saturday against 15th-ranked Michigan State.

“We still have hope that we can go to the Rose Bowl, that’s our number one goal this year,” defensive tackle Darrell Reid said. “That one loss might have knocked out our national championship hopes, but when was the last time you heard that around here? It’s a big deal but we’ve got to shake it off.”

Several Gophers showed up at the Bierman athletic complex on Saturday morning to watch video and get to work on correcting the mistakes that led to Minnesota’s fourth-quarter collapse against the Wolverines.

That determination to use their first loss of the season as a learning experience for future success permeated the Gophers’ locker room and has instilled confidence the team can right the ship against the Spartans.

“We’re definitely going to bounce back from it,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “Most of the guys will probably keep a little part of it with them, but we kind of have to be over it because if we go in unfocused (against Michigan State) the same thing could happen.”

Reynolds suspended

The Big Ten issued a statement Monday agreeing with Ohio State’s one-game suspension of senior outside linebacker Robert Reynolds.

Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel suspended Reynolds after reviewing a play from Saturday night’s game against Wisconsin in which Reynolds poked Badgers quarterback Jim Sorgi forcefully in the neck. The incident came with Sorgi lying on his back at the bottom of a pile after being tackled.

“Robert has apologized and is sincerely sorry for his actions last week,” Tressel said Monday. “However, I feel that the apology by itself is not enough. Robert’s conduct was totally unacceptable and has no place in intercollegiate athletics.”

Reynolds, who will sit out Ohio State’s game against No. 9 Iowa on Saturday, called Sorgi on Sunday night to apologize.

Sorgi missed the remainder of the game against the Buckeyes after sustaining the neck injury midway through the third quarter. He said he expects to start in Wisconsin’s game against Purdue on Saturday.

Smoking hot

Minnesota’s defense faced the best quarterback it had seen all season last week in Michigan’s John Navarre.

Things will not get any easier for the Gophers’ secondary Saturday as Jeff Smoker will take snaps for Michigan State.

Smoker ranks second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (259.7), touchdowns (12) and pass efficiency.

“I don’t think there is a hotter quarterback in the country than (Smoker),” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “With the exception of John Navarre in the fourth quarter (last Friday) against us.”

Heisman watch

Mason was asked Tuesday if he thinks running back Marion Barber III deserves to be mentioned as having an outside shot at the Heisman Trophy this season.

“I don’t worry about that, he’ll get what he deserves,” Mason said. “I’m more worried about that right there,” he continued, pointing to the word “team” painted on the wall.

Barber has already set a new Minnesota record this year for rushing touchdowns in a single season, with 14.

He has averaged nearly 106 yards rushing per game in 2003 despite getting an average of just 15 carries. His 6.92 yards per carry and 14 scores are tops in the nation among running backs.

Familiar faces

In addition to first-year Michigan State coach John L. Smith, Mason will be coaching against some familiar faces on the Spartans’ sideline this Saturday.

Michigan State running backs coach Reggie Mitchell was the running backs coach during Mason’s nine years at Kansas (1988-96) and at Minnesota from 1997-98.

Defensive line coach Steve Stripling coached linebackers and was the recruiting coordinator at Minnesota from 1997-2000.

Cornerbacks coach Paul Haynes never coached under Mason but was recruited by him and played for Mason as a safety during his freshman season at Kent State in 1987.