Gopher Football: Nelson needs to prove he can pass as well as run


Aug 29, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson (9) looks on during the first quarter against the UNLV Rebels at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers return home after running over New Mexico State last week, improving its record to 2-0. On Saturday, the Gophers will look to continue their winning ways against FCS opponent Western Illinois at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Leathernecks are 2-0 and are coming off of victories over Hampton and Quincy by a combined score of 76-15. In its game against Hampton, Western Illinois forced nine turnovers in a 42-9 rout.

The Gophers will be looking to keep its offense and defense clicking in its second-to-last game of the non-conference schedule. While the running game has looked good in the first two weeks, the passing attack could use an improvement from quarterback Philip Nelson.

Nelson has done a solid job as the starter, but his drop-back passing could use some improvements as Minnesota heads into a matchup with San Jose State next week, followed by the Big Ten opener against Iowa. To feel comfortable heading into conference play, the Gophers need to be reassured that Nelson can be effective both as a read option quarterback and as a drop-back passer.

Behind the quarterback, Minnesota’s running game will again be without Donnell Kirkwood and Berkley Edwards as both continue to recover from ankle injuries. Rodrick Williams should get the bulk of the carriers again this week. The sophomore will look to follow up on a 148 yard performance against New Mexico State last weekend.

The Gophers’ defense should have no problem with Western Illinois’ offense, but the unit will be without starting cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. The Gophers can use this week’s game to try and find a replacement for Calhoun, who was on the cusp of a breakout year.

Overall, this is a game the Gophers should be able to cruise to victory. Minnesota should use this game to work on their passing attack and get the defense in order as it deals with injuries.