The University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football team picked a beautiful day to hold their first outdoor practice of the season in the 2013 Spring Game. The sun was out and the scoreboard temperature at the simulated kickoff was a warm 67 degrees.
A drastic difference from a season ago when cooler temperatures and even some rain led to a 3-0 final score in front of a marginal crowd. The great weather helped welcome an announced crowd of 8,400 to TCF Bank Stadium for the day’s events that concluded the 2013 spring practice period.
Sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson led Team Maroon to a 24-17 win over Team White in the game with head coach Jerry Kill following the quarterbacks up and down the field. Nelson went 13 for 17 passing in the game with 179 yards and one touchdown to redshirt senior wide receiver Derrick Engel.
It was a strong showing for Nelson who took over the starting quarterback job at the halfway point of the season last year as a freshmen. He also mixed in 32 yards rush on six carries in the game.
Returning starting running back Donnell Kirkwood scored the other two touchdowns for Team Maroon in the game. Both carries were from the goal line. The redshirt junior tailback finished with just 23 yards rushing on 11 carries, but was limited in his use in the game.
Last weekend at a scrimmage Minnesota offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said that Kirkwood would be limited in the Spring Game today as they did not to see as much from him. Between both Team Maroon and Team White, running backs Cole Banham, David Cobb and Rodrick Williams Jr. received the majority of the carries for the Gophers as a whole.
At quarterback for Team White for the majority of the day was redshirt freshmen Mitch Leidner. The 6-foot-4 signal caller from Lakeville, Minn. was solid overall in the game. He went 10 for 18 in the game for 136 yards passing and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball 13 times in the game for 45 yards, but netted only 19 yards after four touch sacks from the defense.
Though hitting the quarterback was not supposed to be a part of the game today, Leidner was sacked hard once by defensive end Theiren Cockran — he must have just forgot.
On the receiving end of the two Leidner passing touchdowns were Jamel Harbison and Logan Hutton. Harbison is coming off an ACL injury that he suffered in the season opening game last year against UNLV that caused him to use a medical redshirt for his freshmen season. He recorded five receptions on the day for 52 yards and the lone touchdown score and overall looked strong on his routes after the knee injury.
One offensive standout from the game that Gophers fans should become familiar with quickly is redshirt freshmen tight end Maxx Williams. The Waconia, Minn. native caught three passes for 54 yards — including a nice 26 yard chain mover. He is expected to help fill the hole left by the graduation of tight end John Rabe from last year’s team. Rabe was second on the team with four touchdown receptions.
Overall the game was a success for both the team and fans. Many of the fans made their way onto the playing surface after the game for an extended autograph session with players and coaches. After the game coach Kill and quarterbacks Nelson and Leidner expressed their gratitude to the outstanding crowd for their support.
In order for the Gophers to improve upon their 6-7 overall record, they will rely heavily on a strong offensive line that was constantly changing last year due to injuries. Anchoring that front five is redshirt senior Ed Olson who can be seen below posing for a picture with some young fans after the game.
Defensively in the game, Minnesota held out many of their star defenders including Derrick Wells, Brock Vereen, Michael Amaefula and Ra’Shede Hageman. In total 14 players were kept out of the game for various reasons. Much of that was to avoid injury according to coach Kill.
Hageman received a large crowd of fans after the game to receive autographs. The redshirt senior defensive lineman is projected to be a possible high draft pick in next year’s NFL draft.
What would a Gopher football game be without an appearance by Goldy Gopher?
Overall it was a great day for the Gopher football team and the fans. It should help to bring a lot of excitement to TCF Bank Stadium this fall for coach Kill and his club. If the weather is as nice as this for the upcoming season, then fans should pack the building to see hopefully an improved Minnesota football team.