Big Ten: Chad Spann

This spring, Minnesota players will be in the all too familiar position of learning a new offense.

Gophers seniors will adjust to their fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons. They've already run the spread, the pro-style and pretty much everything in between, but spring ball will bring new plays, new formations and new expectations.

Here's the good news: Minnesota's newest offense is a keeper.

"This isn't going to change from year to year, and the kids are excited about that," Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover told me Wednesday. "We will talk to them constantly about laying a foundation. What we do the first day of spring are things that hopefully we're running on New Year's Day in a bowl game.

"We don't just say, 'Whichever way the wind blows, let's run that.' We do have that system that we've worked on and had some success with, and the kids have picked up on that."

Limegrover acknowledges he and the other coaches must sell their system to the players they're inheriting, but it shouldn't be too difficult. They could simply pop in a tape from Northern Illinois' 2010 season.

The Gophers' running backs will see Chad Spann, the Mid-American Conference MVP, scooting across the field for big gains en route to 1,388 rush yards and 22 touchdowns. The receivers will see multiple players involved in a pass attack that stretched the field at times. MarQueis Gray and the other quarterbacks will watch Northern Illinois star Chandler Harnish abuse defenses with both his arm and his feet. Minnesota's offensive linemen will see a unit that powered its way to 260.4 rush yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry.

Limegrover is quick to point out that Northern Illinois' 2010 offense featured veteran players who had spent years mastering the system. But Minnesota players can start the learning process without worrying about more changes.

"We're not going to come with something new every year," Limegrover said. "You learn it. Now we're going to build on it. That's something I've been telling the guys till I'm blue in the face."

Limegrover said a lot of people try to characterize the offense as a spread or a pro-I, but the system is multifaceted and has a lot going on before the snap. Minnesota will show a defense several formations and personnel groupings before the snap, and the offense puts pressure on the quarterback to make the correct checks.

But once the play starts, the Gophers will keep it simple.

"I can't stress enough that the best thing you can do is have your kids feel good about what they're going to do on a post-snap basis," Limegrover said. "Then they're going to be aggressive, they're going to execute. If they're not sure because the picture's changing on them a lot, then that's when you've got trouble.

"We'll do everything we can to try to gain leverage advantages, numbers advantages and personnel advantages pre-snap, but once that ball is snapped, we're pretty basic."

Wildcats' run game turns to Trumpy

September, 29, 2010
First, Northwestern turned to Stephen Simmons, but he got hurt.

The Wildcats then tried Arby Fields. And Scott Concannon. And Jacob Schmidt. And Simmons again. The result was a rushing attack that ranked eighth in the Big Ten and 95th nationally in 2009.

Northwestern went back to Fields and Schmidt in the 2010 season opener against Vanderbilt, but only got fumbles and short gains. Through the first four games, Northwestern has had four lost fumbles from its running backs and no runs of longer than 20 yards, a problem that has carried over from last season.

The hard truth: Since Tyrell Sutton graduated, Northwestern has had a major hole in its backfield.

But there's hope this week as the undefeated Wildcats open Big Ten play at Minnesota.

Redshirt freshman Mike Trumpy gets his chance to become the answer for Northwestern's rushing issues. Trumpy, who missed all of 2009 because of injuries, provided a lift last week against Central Michigan with 53 yards on 12 attempts, all in the second half of a 30-25 victory.

His performance elevated him to co-starter status with Schmidt on this week's depth chart.

"Michael, really the first time being healthy here a couple weeks ago, has put a couple good weeks of practice together," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He ran hard for his first real opportunity of getting some carries besides mop-up duty. His role is going to increase based on the production that he has."

At 6-foot and 210 pounds, Trumpy gives Northwestern a little extra size at running back. The nephew of former NFL star Bob Trumpy ran hard between the tackles against Central Michigan and most important, he held onto the football.

Northwestern on Saturday faces a Minnesota team ranks last in the Big Ten and 97th nationally against the run (187.8 ypg). Northern Illinois' Chad Spann gashed the Gophers for 223 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win.

It's a good opportunity for Trumpy to help himself in a wide-open backfield. If he's not the answer, Northwestern might not have one, unless it wants to use true freshman Adonis Smith, an increasingly unlikely possibility.

"We've made no secret we want to try and be much more efficient running the football," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald knows that as good as quarterback Dan Persa and the wide receivers have been, a one-dimensional offense can only go so far in Big Ten play.

If the Wildcats plan to turn their quick start into a special season, someone needs to answer the call at running back.
This is all you need to know about where the Minnesota football program stands right now.

Twice the Golden Gophers faced fourth-and-1 in the second half against a MAC defense on Saturday night, and twice they came up short. That's simply unacceptable for a program priding itself on a "Pound the Rock" mantra and a pro-style offense that still leaves many scratching their heads. If you want to be a tough football team, you convert those plays. End of story.

Not only did Minnesota struggle to run the ball, but the Gophers couldn't stop Chad Spann and the Northern Illinois rushing attack in a 34-23 Huskies victory. Spann racked up 223 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, including a 61-yard scoring burst to put away the game midway through the fourth quarter. I know Minnesota is young on defense, but the breakdowns just can't happen.

You have to feel for Gophers quarterback Adam Weber, who had another big passing performance (373 yards, 2 TDs). Weber deserves a better situation than he's got right now in Minneapolis. A lack of discipline hurt the Gophers, who were flagged nine times for 59 yards.

Under Glen Mason, Minnesota was the program that beefed up on nonconference wins and eeked its way into bowl games. Things are worse now, as the Gophers have dropped three consecutive nonconference home games for the first time since 1898. The calls for Tim Brewster's head are increasing, and the fourth-year coach needs a major turnaround to make them go away.

Big Ten play beckons, and it doesn't get any easier for Minnesota, which has the league's toughest home slate (Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa and Northwestern).
I hate to be overly dramatic, but if Minnesota doesn't rally in the second half against Northern Illinois, the Gophers' season might be hanging by a thread.

The Big Ten schedule does Minnesota no favors with home games against Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern. The Gophers have to find a way to beat Northern Illinois tonight.

After two big special-teams plays helped the Gophers score 10 unanswered points, Minnesota once again fell victim to a problem in the kicking game right before halftime. A blocked punt by Northern Illinois led to a touchdown pass with three seconds left, and NIU leads 20-13.

Both teams are trying to run the ball, but Northern Illinois is having much more success behind Chad Spann (106 rush yards, 1 TD on seven carries). Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber turned in a solid first half, completing 8 of 14 passes with a 20-yard touchdown strike to Da'Jon McKnight, but the Gophers need to get running back Duane Bennett going.

NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish is giving Minnesota's defense trouble, just like he did as a freshman in 2008.

Again, I can't understand the importance of the second half for Minnesota. Tim Brewster's crew must get it done.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Kudos and criticism from Week 3 in the Big Ten.

Thumbs up, Iowa's defense -- The Hawkeyes throttled an undermanned Arizona team, holding the Wildcats to eight first downs, 253 total yards and just one offensive touchdown when the game was out of reach. Safety Tyler Sash and defensive end Adrian Clayborn led the way. Despite all the chaos on offense, Iowa's defense has been the team's constant heading into Big Ten play.

Thumbs down, Northwestern's defense -- Sherrick McManis' absence really hurt the Wildcats at Syracuse, but this unit has seen a decline in fundamentals and overall explosiveness. Northwestern controlled the line of scrimmage in most of its games last year, but the defense looked a step slow throughout a heartbreaking loss to the Orange.

Thumbs up, Eric Decker -- The rest of the country finally got a glimpse of why No. 7 is such a special player. Decker accounted for all three Minnesota touchdowns against Cal (2 receiving, 1 pass) and became the school's all-time receptions leader with his second scoring grab. He might have made the toughest catch of the college football season on his first touchdown, leaping for the ball and taking a vicious hit from Cal's Sean Cattouse.

Thumbs down, Minnesota's offensive line -- Despite the arrival of guru Tim Davis, the Gophers' front five has underperformed this season. You can't live by the motto "Pound the Rock" and average a Big Ten-worst 85.7 rush yards a game. Minnesota now ranks 109th nationally in rush offense after finishing 104th nationally last season.

Thumbs up, Indiana's secondary -- The unit took advantage of Akron backup quarterback Matt Rodgers, picking off four passes in Saturday's road win. Safety Austin Thomas collected two picks for the second time in his career, and cornerback Ray Fisher made his mark on special teams, returning the game's opening kickoff 91 yards to the end zone.

Thumbs down, Michigan State's secondary -- What had been billed as the team's deepest unit struggled for the second straight game. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen passed for 300 yards and two touchdowns against the Spartans, and he would have had more if not for an injury to star wideout Michael Floyd. This secondary is Mark Dantonio's baby, and he needs to get it on track Saturday against Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien, who has exceeded expectations.

Thumbs up, Terrelle Pryor -- Pryor deserves some credit for playing the way he's supposed to playing and utilizing all of his natural gifts as a quarterback. The sophomore threw for a career-high 262 yards but more important, he rushed for 110 yards in a romp against Toledo. It marked the first time Pryor recorded 200 pass yards and 100 rush yards in the same game. I would anticipate we'll see many more from No. 2

Thumbs down, Purdue's defensive line -- The Boilers led the Big Ten in pass defense a year ago, but was it simply a facade that masked their inability to stop the run? They certainly struggled Saturday against Northern Illinois, which piled up 280 rush yards in a 28-21 victory. Huskies running backs Me'co Brown and Chad Spann had little trouble finding room in the Boilers defense.

Thumbs up, Carlos Brown -- Brandon Minor hasn't been healthy all year, but Brown continues to answer the bell for Michigan. The senior rushed for a career-high 187 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yard burst, in the Wolverines' victory against Eastern Michigan. Minor will be a factor when his ankle heals, but Brown deserves to be a big part of the Michigan run game.

Thumbs up, Evan Royster -- Despite battling the flu last week, Royster looked at his peak against Temple, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown. Penn State needed some semblance of a run game to emerge before Iowa came to town, and Royster provided it against the Owls.

Thumbs up, Chris Borland -- I feel terrible for not picking Borland as my Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week, so this has to suffice. The Wisconsin freshman linebacker blocked a punt and forced a fumble on another punt against Wofford. Wisconsin recovered Borland's blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown. No wonder the Badgers' coaches were so high on this guy in training camp.

Thumbs down, Purdue's punt block unit -- Northern Illinois made an extremely gutsy call on the fake punt deep in its own territory, but Purdue simply can't let that happen. The Boilers needed to make sure they get the ball back with enough time to do some damage. Instead, Purdue ran out of time.

Thumbs up, Mike Kafka -- Kafka set a Northwestern record by opening the Syracuse game with 16 consecutive completions. He also set a team record for single-game completion percentage (83.3 percent) and caught his first career touchdown pass. Though his fourth-quarter interception proved costly, Kafka proved he's more than just a runner.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten could have used a win against No. 8 Cal, but the league got strong performances from its top teams Saturday. Then there was Purdue sliding back to earth.

Michigan 45, Eastern Michigan 17 -- Senior Carlos Brown should be in the mix for Michigan's top running back spot after a terrific performance in this one (187 rush yards, 2 TDs). The Eagles stayed around for a while, but Michigan's running attack was simply too strong despite an injury to Brandon Minor. Rich Rodriguez wisely used a lot of personnel, including backup quarterback Denard Robinson, who rushed for two scores. The Wolverines offense seems to be opening up every week, which bodes well with Big Ten play approaching.

Northern Illinois 28, Purdue 21 -- What to make of this Purdue team? The Boilers' offense surged in the first two weeks behind running back Ralph Bolden, but they couldn't get going against NIU. It's never a good sign when quarterback Joey Elliott outrushes Bolden (68-64). Purdue simply had no big-play ability against NIU, which ran all over the Boilers defense with Me'co Brown and Chad Spann. Very tough loss for Danny Hope's crew.

Penn State 31, Temple 6 -- The Lions can breathe a bit easier about their run game after Evan Royster went for 134 yards and a touchdown against the Owls. Quarterback Daryll Clark wasn't as sharp as the first two games, but the running game helped him out. Penn State's defensive front seven continues to shut down the run despite Navorro Bowman's absence. The Lions will need Bowman back for the Big Ten opener against Iowa.

Ohio State 38, Toledo 0 -- Jim Tressel and his team really needed this, a convincing win against a hot Toledo team coming off a win against a Big 12 opponent. The Buckeyes offense took control from the onset, and though Terrelle Pryor threw two interceptions, he made a ton of plays with his arm and his feet. Pryor's rushing performance (110 yards) is especially encouraging. He needs to keep it up. Ohio State's defense looks extremely solid right now.

Wisconsin 44, Wofford 14 -- The Badgers had little trouble improving to 3-0 as they got tons of personnel involved in this one. Quarterback Scott Tolzien turned in another efficient performance, and the run game got going behind Zach Brown, John Clay and backup quarterback Curt Phillips. Wisconsin should continue to get Phillips involved when Big Ten play begins next week against Michigan State.