NCF Nation: Bryant Allen

Minnesota suspends Troy Stoudermire

September, 23, 2010
9/23/10
1:03
AM ET
Minnesota is hopeful that MarQueis Gray can become its go-to wide receiver after recording 98 yards and a touchdown last week against USC.

Gray and the other wideouts need to elevate their play Saturday because junior Troy Stoudermire won't be with them. Stoudermire has been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.

Coach Tim Brewster announced the suspension Wednesday but didn't provide many details, saying only, "We'll work with him."

Stoudermire had six receptions for 114 yards this season, but he'll be missed mainly on special teams. He ranks second in the Big Ten in kick return average (23.3 ypr) and needs only 179 yards to become the conference's all-time leader in kick return yards.

Sophomore Bryant Allen steps in for Stoudermire in the starting lineup.

Minnesota lacks many proven wideouts and really needs production from Gray and Da'Jon McKnight on Saturday night against Northern Illinois.

Just another setback in a very rough stretch for the Gophers' program.
The position rankings finish with the special-teams units. For this list, I examine kickers, punters, return men and coverage units and look at each team's overall picture in the all-important third phase. The Big Ten loses several elite specialists, including punter Zoltan Mesko and kicker Brett Swenson. It's a little odd not to see Ohio State near the top, but if there's a hole on Jim Tressel's team this year, it might be on special teams.

Here are my top five:

[+] EnlargeDerrell Johnson-Koulianos
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIDerrell Johnson-Koulianos ranked second in the Big Ten in kick return average (31.5 ypr) in 2009.
1. Iowa: The Hawkeyes boast one of the league's top punters in Ryan Donahue, who has averaged more than 40 yards per punt in each of his first three seasons. Iowa also brings back Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who ranked second in the Big Ten in kick return average (31.5 ypr) in 2009. There's competition at kicker (big surprise), but Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker both boast experience. Colin Sandeman quietly ranked second in the league in punt return average last year.

2. Michigan State: Swenson is undoubtedly a major loss, but Michigan State should improve in the other phases of special teams. Punter Aaron Bates was extremely solid in 2009, averaging 41.6 yards despite a league-high 63 attempts. Look out for Keshawn Martin, who averaged 28.9 yards on kick returns last fall. Martin could be the league's top return man by season's end. The Spartans need to upgrade their kickoff coverage unit.

3. Ohio State: Despite question marks at both specialist spots, Ohio State's history as an elite special-teams squad under Tressel can't be overlooked. Hopes are high for Ben Buchanan at punter, and Devin Barclay has a very big kick on his résumé against Iowa last year. The Buckeyes must replace return man Ray Small, but there's enough talent there. The coverage teams are always good in Columbus.

4. Minnesota: The Gophers' strengths are their return teams, led by Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen. Minnesota led the Big Ten in punt return average, although it had only nine runbacks all year, and finished fifth in kick return average. Eric Ellestad was perfect on PATs and had a decent year on field goals. The Gophers need Dan Orseske to step in at punter for Blake Haudan.

5. Wisconsin: There are some concerns about the Badgers' special-teams units, but everyone is back and should be better. Punter Brad Nortman averaged 42 yards per punt last year, and while kicker Philip Welch took a mini step back, he still booted 17 field goals. David Gilreath is one of the league's most experienced return men, and linebacker Chris Borland proved to be a difference-maker on special teams last year.

More rankings ...

After Minnesota ran a multitude of plays but very few of them well last season, new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton came in with a simple plan.

Step 1: Identify a feasible package of plays for the Gophers execute well.

Step 2: Stick to it!

In preseason camp, he's seeing the desired results.

"We’re really close to that point right now," Horton told me after Friday's practice. "They’re even calling the plays along with me. They’re anticipating what’s going to happen because they’ve seen a variety of looks from the defense to what we’re doing.

Adam Weber
AP Photo/Paul BattagliaMinnesota quarterback Adam Weber is a three-year starter.
"There’s still a lot we’ve got to clean up, but the effort is there and guys are working really hard to be good."

Minnesota didn't dramatically change its offense after Jedd Fisch returned to the NFL, but Horton spent most of the spring installing his plan. He needed the players to continue the process on their own in the summer to make sure they had it down for the season.

So far, Horton has seen "great carryover" in practice, thanks in large part to senior quarterback Adam Weber, a three-year starter who had to reclaim the top job this spring after beating out MarQueis Gray.

"He always approached it like he was going to be the starter, and he did a great job leading the workouts this summer, getting guys ready for camp," Horton said of Weber. "He gets a bad rap. I’m his fourth offensive coordinator in four years. I don’t know many people who can work for four bosses in four years. He’s doing a great job."

The easiest way for Minnesota's offense to keep it simple in 2010 is to effectively run the ball, something haven't done well in a while. One of the nation's premier rushing offenses just five years ago, Minnesota has finished 111th and 104th nationally in the past two seasons, ranking last in the Big Ten both times.

Horton expects to use multiple backs this season -- Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge can be considered co-starters, while Horton said freshman Donnell Kirkwood is performing well -- and he's thrilled to have fullback Jon Hoese back in the fold. But it won't matter who carries the ball if Minnesota's line doesn't markedly improve.

The experience is there, but Horton, head coach Tim Brewster and others have challenged the line to be tougher and more physical.

"They’ve played a lot of football for us, all five of them," said Horton, who singled out center D.J. Burris for his leadership. "I told them when we started camp, ‘It’s on you guys. You have to take charge.'"

Minnesota also has to survive without record-setting receiver Eric Decker, whose foot injury last fall coincided with the offense's nosedive. Horton joked that he almost expected Decker to be on the field for camp -- "That’s one of the reasons I took the job as offensive coordinator," he said -- but acknowledged the major production void left by No. 7.

Horton doesn't expect a receiver to catch 70-80 passes like Decker used to, but he likes the variety he has with players like Da'Jon McKnight, Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen.

“From what we put in in the spring, those guys worked on it in the summer, and you can see a big improvement running those plays in the fall," Horton said. "They’re not thinking as much. And if you’re thinking, you can’t play fast. They know what they’re doing, and that brings confidence."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


MINNEAPOLIS -- Quick analysis from halftime at TCF Bank Stadium, where California leads Minnesota 21-14.

Turning point: After Minnesota stopped Cal deep in its own territory, Bears safety Jesse Brooks drew a 15-yard penalty for crushing Gophers punt returner Bryant Allen, who was knocked silly trying to catch the ball. The foul gave Minnesota great field position and the Gophers converted for their second touchdown with 40 seconds left, reducing their deficit.

Stats of the half: Cal has outgained Minnesota 277-112, recorded seven more first downs and held the ball for 19:56 vs. 10:04.

Best player in the half: The best is Best, as in California running back Jahvid Best, who strengthened his case for Heisman Trophy consideration with 114 rush yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries in the half. Honorable mention goes to Minnesota senior wide receiver Eric Decker, who has caught two touchdown passes.

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