The Maroon team defeated the Gold Team 38-20 in the 2019 Minnesota Golden Gophers Spring Game Saturday. The Maroon team used a balanced attack both on the ground and in the air to get up to an early lead. Mohammad Ibrahim led both teams in rushing ending up with 84 yards on ten carries and a touchdown for the Maroon squad. But it was sophomore wide out Rashad Bateman who stole the show. Bateman caught six passes for 164 yards to lead both teams and to earn offensive Sid Hartman MVP honors for the Maroon team.
The Gophers spring game was moved to their indoor football facility due to the April snowstorm that cut through Minnesota in the last few days. Unfortunately this meant that the general public could not come to the game, but it still appeared there as a decent crowd of a couple hundred people at the game who were invited guests of the football program. Several committed recruits were on hand, and several other potential recruits were on visits to watch the Gophers play each others.
The game was played with most rules enforced. The clock was on running time for a majority of the game, but otherwise it was as close to real game conditions as you could get in a spring practice.
The Gold team began with the ball to start the game, and Tanner Morgan wasted no time finding everyone’s favorite target to kick it off.
With the lack of available running backs for both teams in the game, Minnesota dove into its bag of tricks early and often. Sophomore corner back Terell Smith got into the action early taking a jet sweep around the right side for eleven yards.
The maroon team would shut down the Gold squad after their initial success and end the drive with a Carter Coughlin “sack”.
Big 3rd Down stop for Team Maroon pic.twitter.com/en9cILHZ7E— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) April 13, 2019
Boye Mafe would sack Zack Annexstad to end the first offensive drive for the maroon team on the next posession. The teams went back in forth with limited drives until the maroon team would break the ice with about 4:45 left in the first quarter. We have all heard that Minnesota will be targeting the tight end a lot more in 2019, and we saw the first of that on the first Spring Game TD. Right after a 36 yard connection to Clay Geary, Annexstad found a wide open Bryce Witham down the middle of the field and he out ran the gold defense 31 yards to put the Maroon team up 7-0.
After a quick defensive stop the maroon team got the ball back again at the end of the first quarter. Ibrahim did what we saw so many times last year and broke one to the outside for a big gain.
The maroon team continued to march down the field and got the ball to the Gold seven as the quarter ended. To open the second, the Gophers pulled out what will go down as the most memorable play of the spring game. First and goal from the seven and the Gophers handed the ball off to.....Daniel Faalele??
Sideline Views: Faalele Touchdown Edition pic.twitter.com/jnPSwz5bra— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) April 13, 2019
The “FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN!” put the Maroon team up 14-0 early in the second quarter. The Gold team next marched down the field and Morgan appeared to throw an incomplete pass in the front of the end zone to Chris Autman-Bell. However...because PJ Fleck can do what PJ Fleck wants to do he paused the game and called for a video review. Fleck ran over to the BTN crew calling the game in the corner of the end zone and watched the replay on their monitors. It was a close play—and in a real game probably would not have been overturned, but because PJ can—he did overturn it and gave the touchdown to the Gold Squad to make it 14-7.
It's his practice, let him make the call. @Coach_Fleck made a TD review himself and told the ref which call to make...Bet he wishes that could happen in a real @GopherFootball game: pic.twitter.com/nGG5tyDuKj— Minnesota on BTN (@MinnesotaOnBTN) April 13, 2019
Maroon went down the field again this time on a big connection from Annexstad to Bateman.
Ibrahim would put the ball in the end zone from a yard out and it was suddenly 21-7 Maroon.
After another maroon defensive stop anchored by a big third down stuff of Bryce Williams by Coughlin, Annexstad and the Maroon offense stepped on the field once more. This time it was safety Jordan Howden making the defensive play of the game for the Gold team with a gorgeous interception.
However, this would only be the defensive play of the game for just about a minute. On the Gold offensive possession Tanner Morgan made a horrible throw on the run that hit linebacker Thomas Rush in the hands. He made some pretty moves on his return and took it back 71 yards for a pick-6 to give the Maroon a 28-7 lead at the half.
A Brock Walker field goal early in the third made it 31-7 Maroon before the Gold Team got back on the board. Remember that going to the tight end thing? Well Tanner Morgan made his last pass of his day count as he found Brevyn Spann-Ford for a nineteen yard touchdown to cut the lead to 31-13 after the missed Walker extra point.
Morgan and Annexstad were done for the game in the middle of the third quarter and Minnesota’s two freshmen qb’s in Jacob Clark and Cole Kramer took over. Many people think Clark has a ton of potential and she showed why with his first pass of the game hitting Bateman for a 63 yard gain.
Walk-on running back Preston Jelen would add the final TD for the maroon team as he would rumble in from a yard out to make it 38-13 Maroon late in the third quarter. The Gold team would get on the board one last time in the fourth quarter as Spann-Ford picked up his second TD of the game on a strike down the middle of the field from Cole Kramer to make it 38-20.
Both teams ran the ball much of the fourth quarter and as the clock struck zero the Maroon team ran to the end zone to take possession of Goldy’s Cup as the Spring Game winners.
Raise up Goldy's Cup. pic.twitter.com/hoXspkP484— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) April 13, 2019
Questions Created or Answered?
QB competition decided?
No. Both QB’s looked good at times, but Zack Annexstad was probably slightly better. Annexstad ended the game 9-15 for 191 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Morgan ended the day 11-17 for 139 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But, Morgan’s interception was inexcusable—a pass only Thomas Rush could catch—and he did along with taking it back for a touchdown to earn the defensive MVP award. Annexstad still appears to be better vertically down the field—something he took advantage of with Bateman and it got him the offensive MVP award. But it still will be a competition all summer long and into fall camp before Pj Fleck makes the final call.
Tight Ends getting more involved?
We have heard this from several people that Minnesota wants to get the tight ends more involved in the offense in 2019...and if the spring game is any indication that’s a definite yes. Minnesota got three tds from tight ends today—one from Witham and two from Spann-Ford. If the Gopher tight ends can be true receiving options to add to the wr core of Johnson, Bateman, CAB, and Demetrius Douglas...yes please.
Offensive Line Layout?
The Maroon OL of Jason Dickson, Blaise Andries, John Michael Schmitz, Nathan Boe/Ben Davis and Faalele had a better day than their gold counterparts. Does that mean Dickson has the inside edge over Sam Schlueter for the starting LT spot? Only time will tell.
Defensive Line Sack Attack?
We know Carter Coughlin is good, but Minnesota might finally be ready to see the potential of Boye Mafe. He had four tackles including a sack and a TFL and has the inside track to see lots of playing time this fall. Fleck said in his postgame presser that the Gophers will be very liberal in switching up their position packages this fall to make sure they can try and take advantage of any mismatches and get pressure on the QBs.
Other Defensive ?
Thomas Rush looked good and will fill in easily as the backup LB before he jumps into a starting spot in 2020. He seems to have good natural instincts around the ball. IN the defensive backfield Howden had a good game. He led both teams in tackles with nine and in solo tackles with eight. He wrestled his interception away in the second quarter. Hopefully he can confidently step in for Jacob Huff this fall. Coney Durr had several nice pass breakups as well.
Shrimp on the Barbie Package?
So we all laughed when Daniel Faalele stepped into the back field and dragged several defenders seven yards into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter. One of those Spring Game gags that you laugh about and then forget. Or was it? Fleck in his postgame presser hinted that that package could return in the regular season—with some kind of Australian name.
Fleck on Daniel Faalele's touchdown plunge: "I thought he was going to get tackled, but then he kept moving his feet, and 400 pounds later, he's in the end zone." He said the team will likely develop an Australian name for the sub-package. #Gophers pic.twitter.com/RGJntN1cUb— GopherHole.com (@GopherHole) April 13, 2019
Other Fun Stats?
- Fifth string QB and walk-on Jon Santaga ran the ball four times for 31 yards. While unlikely to ever see playing time at QB he is a true athlete and has volunteered to try and play some special teams this season. Could be fun to watch and a fan favorite.
- The Maroon team averaged 8.1 yards per play. That’s pretty damn good.
- Justus Harris appears to be having a bit of a resurgence. He ended up with six tackles including 1.5 for loss and a sack. If he can be a quality blitzer from that corner back spot, that could be a boon to the Gophers this fall.
- The kicker spot is wide open in fall camp. Walk-on Brock Walker has the spot sewn up for the time being, but it looks like UConn transfer Micheal Tarbutt and incoming freshman Micheal Lantz will have every opportunity to try and win the job from Walker. Walker was 7/8 on extra points and made a 22 yard field goal on Saturday.
All in all it was a performance that can give Gopher fans some confidence going into the fall. Yes, there are still plenty of areas that need improvement but this tram has some serious talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball and should legitimately compete for the Big Ten West this fall.