The Golden Gopher football team wrapped up what's been viewed as a successful spring practice with a sign that perhaps the tide is turning in Dinkytown.
The normally offensive-minded Gophers understand that, as the cliché goes, defense does indeed win championships, and the team's offensive-minded approach has been tempered by a focus on the other side of the ball this spring.
On Saturday, the first-team defense scored a pair of touchdowns and kept the starting offense out of the end zone in a 24-6 victory for the White team (starting defense, backup offense) over the Maroon (starting offense, backup defense).
"Our defense showed its true colors today," senior (to be) quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq told the Star Tribune. "They showed they can be one of the best defenses in the Big Ten this year. Their motto is to stop the run, and I'm expecting them to do that every week this year."
The White team had some success against the run -- although the Maroons did average 4.3 yards per carry -- but its two biggest plays came against Khaliq and the passing game. Senior cornerback Justin Isom took a tipped pass back 86 yards for a score late in the game, and Dominique Sims, a converted defensive back still looking for a home, ran back an interception 62 yards for a touchdown.
"It was good to see Dominique Sims make a play in front of all the doubters that have asked where he's been," defensive coordinator Greg Hudson told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Sims was a highly touted multi-sport athlete at Minneapolis' De La Salle High School, but has spent a redshirt year and two varsity seasons trying to break into the defensive secondary. Now at 220 pounds, Sims has moved to middle linebacker and should challenge for a starting spot this fall.
The White team also registered three sacks and one tackle for a loss in the 30-minute game.
One problem spot this fall could be the special teams. With Minnesota's all-time leading scorer, kicker Dan Nystrom, graduated, and four-year starting punter Preston Gruening also history, the kicking game could be something of an adventure this season if coach Glen Mason and his staff can't find suitable replacements.
Junior Ryan Duffy solidified his claim on the No. 1 placekicking spot with a 2-for-2 performance, connecting on field goals of 32 and 21 yards. Tom Mollner hit a 21-yarder and an extra point.
Despite its inability to get the ball into the end zone, there were some bright spots for the No. 1 offense. Abdul-Khaliq hit all-America candidate tight end Ben Utecht five times for 82 yards, and juco-transfer Paris Hamilton -- a wide receiver who's had the coaching staff drooling since he signed his letter of intent -- made one catch for 34 yards.
Marion Barber III, looking to rebound from a season on the sideline with a variety of injuries, carried 5 times for 30 yards, while Terry Jackson II carried 4 times for 19 yards in his bid to hang onto the starting job. Fullback Thomas Tapeh, last seen turning Arkansas defensive backs into mulch in the Music City Bowl, ran for 16 yards on 5 carries.
The White team was led on offense by redshirt sophomore Brandon Hagen of Owatonna, who had 18 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Defense Takes Charge In Spring Game
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