Spring games are fun — or at least they are supposed to be. No coaching staff is going to put meaningful plays on film for their opponents to dissect over the summer, so the game is essentially an opportunity to simulate a game experience for the players and also let them cut loose a bit at the end of spring practice. Fortunately, there was fun to be had at the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ spring game. Maroon prevailed over Gold, 24-17, but both teams made plays.
10. Cam Wiley’s game-winning touchdown run
With Mohamed Ibrahim sidelined while he observes Ramadan, the spring game was an opportunity for the rest of the Gophers’ running backs to make an impression. None of them really stood out from the crowd, unfortunately, but Cam Wiley did manage to get on the board. On 3rd & Goal with the score tied and time on the game clock dwindling, Wiley took the handoff from Tanner Morgan, eluded a tackle attempt by Micah Dew-Treadway, and bounced it outside, outracing Jaqwondis Burns to the end zone for the go-ahead score.
9. Braelen Oliver drops Cam Wiley for a loss
The backfield was not a place where Minnesota’s linebackers spent a lot of time last season. They sorely missed the speed and athleticism of Braelen Oliver, who missed all of last year due to a torn ACL. Oliver was back in action this spring and while he may not be 100 percent yet, he made it clear he has not lost his knack for creating havoc. On a first down play in the fourth quarter, he kept his eyes in the backfield and moved to the play side, easily shed his block, and showed zero hesitation in closing the gap between him and Wiley for the tackle for loss.
8. Mike Brown-Stephens’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Tanner Morgan
On their first offensive possession following a turnover on downs, Maroon capitalized on the good field position and marched down the field to take a 7-0 lead. Facing 3rd & Goal, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. dialed up a reverse pass with wide receiver Mike Brown-Stephens finding Tanner Morgan in the end zone for the score. This play was last seen against South Dakota State in 2019, when Morgan hauled in a pass for a two-point conversion.
7. Clay Geary’s diving fourth down catch
Clay Geary is not the flashiest name on the roster but he refuses to be left out of the conversation at wide receiver, where he is probably the most experienced player behind Chris Autman-Bell. The former walk-on actually made a number of impressive catches throughout the game on Saturday but perhaps the biggest came on a late fourth down play. Trailing 24-17 with less than a minute left in the game, Zack Annexstad connected with a diving Geary at the goal line, who made the catch with safety Abner Dubar draped over his back.
6. Nyles Pinckney’s fourth down stop
On the opening drive of the game, Gold faced 4th & 1 at their own 45-yard line and opted to go for it, handing the ball off to Trey Potts. But Clemson transfer defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney was having none of it. Bullying his way past right guard Curtis Dunlap Jr., Pinckney ate up Potts in the backfield and dropped him for a loss, creating a turnover on downs.
5. Daniel Jackson’s 37-yard catch down the sideline
Backed up to their own 20-yard line on 2nd & 15 after a sack near the end of the third quarter, Gold needed a big play and Daniel Jackson delivered. Zack Annexstad, recognizing the defense had been drawn offsides, launched the ball down the sideline to Jackson. Jackson had two defenders draped over him but the ball was perfectly placed where only he could get it. He showed great concentration in making what was essentially a one-handed catch and had the presence of mind to make sure he had a foot in bounds to complete the play.
4. Terell Smith’s game-ending interception
One of the biggest question marks on this team is who will replace Benjamin St.-Juste at the cornerback spot opposite veteran starter Coney Durr. Terell Smith is very much in the conversation, though he has struggled to get meaningful snaps since starting nine games as a true freshman. He came alive on the final drive of the spring game, nearly reeling in a ridiculous one-handed interception on a second down pass to the end zone but having to settle instead for a simple pass breakup. He’d get another chance on 3rd & Goal, turning and making a play on an underthrown fade pass to Daniel Jackson in the end zone.
3. Chris Autman-Bell’s back shoulder touchdown catch
Immediately after walk-on linebacker Derik LeCaptain forced and recovered a fumble on defense, Maroon took a shot at the end zone on first down. Tanner Morgan made the back shoulder throw to Chris Autman-Bell in the corner of the end zone and he came down with it for a 28-yard touchdown catch, extending the Maroon team’s lead to 14-3. With Rashod Bateman playing on Sundays in the fall and a wide receiver corps chock full of talent but lacking game experience, Autman-Bell is WR1 and looks primed to play the part.
2. Sam Schlueter’s 3-yard touchdown plunge
There are ordinary touchdowns, and then there are touchdowns scored by offensive linemen. Any time a big man finds pay dirt, that touchdown is rightfully awarded prime placement on any top play list, no questions asked. And the Gophers’ had not but one but two of them in their spring game. On 1st & Goal from the three-yard line, Gold was able to tie the game to end the third quarter by handing the ball to left tackle Sam Schlueter, who took the ball around the edge of the score. He even went so far as to initiate contact with cornerback Victor Pless.
1. Daniel Faalele’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Ko Kieft
Right tackle Daniel Faalele missed all of last season after opting out due to COVID concerns, but the spring game made clear he is very much back and ready to go. Trailing 14-3 with less than two minutes left in the first half, Gold was near the goal line when they inserted Faalele into the backfield. Taking the direct snap, Faalele took a couple steps forward, preparing to rumble into a pile of bodies, before delivering the pop pass to a wide open Ko Kieft in the end zone.