April 11, 2015
By Daniel Kobren
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The University of Minnesota football team returned to TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday for its annual spring game under a sun-splashed sky and in front of 10,100 fans.
The fifth spring game under head coach Jerry Kill featured a matchup between the defense, who wore white jerseys, and the offense, who were adorned in gold.
Minnesota's offense was clicking early as the Gophers marched down the field for a quick touchdown on the opening series. The drive featured a bruising running game from Rodrick Williams and a 27-yard pass from Mitch Leidner to KJ Maye before resulting in a Williams' rushing touchdown. Williams scoring jaunt covered 12 yards and ended with him dragging three defenders for the final few yards as he stretched the ball across the goal line. Williams played only one series and finished it with six carries for 33 yards and one score.
Still, it was a drive that he would like to replicate this fall.
"I want us to move the ball," said Williams, who has dropped around 20 pounds and is now playing at 227 pounds. "If someone is in our way, just run right over them. I would want it to look like the first drive every rep."
Minnesota had eight different players run the ball for a combined 255 yards on 57 attempts and two touchdowns. The game's biggest run came from quarterback Chris Streveler, who showed off his speed as he tore down the field for a 64-yard touchdown.
Leidner, who also saw limited action in the game, was not surprised by Streveler's speed.
"No doubt, he [Streveler] is one of the fastest guys on the team," said Leidner of Streveler, who ended the game with seven carries for 83 yards.
Conor Rhoda -- in addition to Leidner and Streveler -- also saw action on Saturday and the trio combined to complete 28 passes on 50 attempts for 182 yards and a touchdown. The lone passing touchdown was a 2-yard strike from Rhoda, who was 12-for-19 for 56 yards, to running back Jacob Kirsch. Streveler completed 11-for-20 passes for 73 yards, while Leidner was 5-for-11 for 53 yards.
Minnesota's quarterbacks spread the wealth through the air, as seventeen different players caught a pass. Maye led the way with three catches for 38 yards, while six freshmen caught at least one pass as well.
There were a few dropped passes from the young receivers as well, but Leidner liked what he saw from the athletic group and stressed the importance of upcoming summer workouts.
"Ultimately it's going to be about those receivers and getting those guys comfortable, going through a lot of tape with them, going through situations with them," said Leidner. "Myself and the rest of the quarterbacks need those guys to be on the exact same page as us at all times."
The defense, which played without its starting secondary in Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Eric Murray, Antonio Johnson and Damarius Travis, was led by linebacker Cody Poock. The junior college transfer, who tore his ACL in last year's spring practice, led the team with 17 tackles. Fellow linebacker Jonathan Celestin added 12 tackles, while true freshman and January enrollee Julian Huff made eight.
Defensive back Deletavious McGhee forced a fumble for the game's only turnover and Hank Ekpe registered both of the scrimmage's two sacks.
Two kickers saw action and both were tasked with the challenge of attempting field goals longer than 50 yards. Ryan Santoso drilled his 56-yard attempt, while Emmit Carpenter came up short on a 54-yarder.
Kill, who said he thought the team emerged from the game without any serious injuries, was pleased with the scrimmage.
"We got to see a lot of people," said the reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year. "We don't know how everything goes until we watch film, but I think we got what we needed to accomplished. We played a lot of younger guys in the secondary to build depth. We will need that for nickel and dime and some of the things we are going to do. Overall we saw some good things."
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