Gophers move spring game inside, try to keep competition alive
MINNEAPOLIS -- P.J. Fleck’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers in the moments before kickoff.
While a random April snowstorm forced the Gophers football team inside, the rah-rah 38-year-old coach did everything in his power to make the spring game still feel like the real deal.
There was even a trophy for the winning team.
“I wanted the players to have fun,” Fleck said. “This is a fun game. Sometimes we take that word ‘fun’ out of it, and I’m not sure why. I want our guys to have fun. If we’re not having fun, then we’re not playing the right way, in my opinion.”
With the sounds of Rick Ross serving as the soundtrack of the afternoon, and obviously some pep band tunes spliced in between, the Gophers maroon team beat the Gophers gold team by a final score of 38-20.
The final score was rather irrelevant, a mere byproduct of the real stories of the afternoon.
Here are five takeaways from the spring game.
No word yet on whether Tanner Morgan or Zack Annexstad will start at quarterback. That call more than likely won’t be made until right before the start of next season.
That said, both players performed well Saturday, with Annexstad finishing 9 for 15 for 191 yards and a touchdown and Morgan finishing 11 for 17 for 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“I thought they did a lot of really good things,” Fleck said. “They completed balls they needed to complete. They ran that offense very effectively. They were very poised. For the most part, I thought both of them played very well.”
WIDE RECEIVER DUO
While there were standouts across the board, nobody was more impressive than the duo of Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman.
Both players shined as the go-to guy on their respective teams with Johnson hauling in three catches for 77 yards and Bateman nabbing six for 164 yards.
“Your best players have to make the biggest plays at the biggest moments,” Fleck said, heaping praise on Johnson and Bateman. “You want the best players to be playing their best when we get to the season. We are on our way. We are still developing. We aren’t anywhere close to where we need to be. But I like the way this team is trending.”
Perhaps aided by the fact that both teams trotted out makeshift offensive lines, seven players recorded sacks.
Linebacker Thomas Rush was a standout. He finished with three solo tackles, a tackle for a loss, and an interception that he returned 71 yards for a touchdown.
“I thought he had a tremendous game,” Fleck said. “Thomas Rush was a running back in high school, and now he’s playing linebacker. There’s a lot of instinct involved. There’s a lot of technique involved. Just going out and tackling people is not necessarily natural for someone that has been playing offense for most of his life. I thought he really stepped up.”
REFRIGERATOR PERRY REINCARNATED
No doubt the highlight of the day was when 6-foot-9, 400-pound right tackle Daniel Faalele bulldozed into the end zone for a rushing touchdown.
“He got the ball at the 6-yard-line, got hit at the 6-yard-line, and then William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry went into the end zone,” Fleck said. “It was unbelievable. I thought he was going to get tackled, and then he kept moving his feet. And 400 pounds later he was in the end zone.
How much do the Gophers plan to use Faalele in the backfield?
“As much as we can use him,” Fleck said with a laugh.
Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks are on the mend. Both suffered season-ending knee injuries last season, though it sounds like Smith is further along in his recovery than Brooks.
“They are getting better,” Fleck said. “I think Rodney is close to being cleared, but we’re not clearing him yet. I refused to be like, ‘Oh. He’s cleared. Let’s get him out here.’ Nope. We are going to take our time with both of them.”
With both players out, it was a running back by committee of sorts with Mo Ibrahim standing out with 10 rushes for 84 yards.