MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team hosts its annual Spring Game on Saturday. The Gold versus Maroon scrimmage caps a spring season that started in January with conditioning and work in the weight room.
Minnesota is coming off a 9-4 season in 2021, which ended with a 23-13 win over rival Wisconsin and an 18-6 win over West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Saturday’s scrimmage is the last time the Gophers will be on the field until fall camp. Minnesota’s regular season starts Thursday, Sept. 1, against former Gophers’ coach Jerry Kill and New Mexico State.
Here are five things to know about Saturday’s scrimmage:
WEATHER FORCES GOPHERS TO MOVE SPRING GAME INDOORS, CLOSED TO FANS
Minnesota’s Spring Game was scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium, but the weather forecast has changed those plans for the third time in four years. Saturday's forecast calls for a high in the 50s, with a 90 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms most of the day. Team officials announced Thursday the game will be played at the team's indoor practice facility, and as a result, will be closed to the public. Fans wanting to see the game can tune into Big Ten Network at 1 p.m.
The team's events that involve bringing an oar to the stadium, and the diaper drive, have also been canceled. PJ Fleck says a fan event with the team will be planned during fall camp.
"We are disappointed to move the game indoors. But we wanted to do what was safe for our student-athletes and fans, and we did not want to cancel the game," Fleck said. "By moving inside, our fans can watch the game live on BTN or listen to it on the radio. We will be sure to plan a fun fan-friendly event for the fall."
The Gophers had perfect weather for last year’s Spring Game, but didn’t host one in 2020 due to COVID-19, and had their 2019 and 2018 scrimmages moved because of weather.
FORMER PLAYERS TO SERVE AS GUEST COACHES
PJ Fleck and the Gophers host their draft for the Spring Game in the days leading up to the scrimmage. The team announced Wednesday four former players from their historic 2019 season will serve as guest coaches for the game. Linebacker Kamal Martin and receiver Rashod Bateman will coach the Maroon team. Carter Coughlin and Antoine Winfield Jr. will coach the Gold team. All four are currently in the NFL, and were stars on the 2019 squad that finished 11-2.
Last year, the guest coaches were basketball coaches Lindsay Whalen and Ben Johnson.
WHO PLAYS ON OFFENSE?
As always, the Spring Game gives a chance for depth and reserve players to get meaningful, game-like reps. Fleck has already said running backs Mo Ibrahim and Trey Potts, coming back from season-ending injuries, won’t play Saturday. Expect first-team players to get limited snaps, which probably means shorter days for guys like Tanner Morgan and Chris Autman-Bell. Look for Zach Evans and Jordan Nubin to get plenty of carries. Receiver Dylan Wright should have a busy day, and back-up quarterbacks Cole Kramer and Athan Kaliakmanis should have busy days.
WHO PLAYS ON DEFENSE?
The same principle applies to the defense in terms of who will play. Don’t expect first-team players to get a lot of snaps, as Fleck doesn’t want to risk injuries to key players in a scrimmage and he uses the game to look at future players. The veterans like Trill Carter, Thomas Rush, Mariano Sori-Marin, Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden to get minimal snaps. Michael "Flip" Dixon will get a chance to cap off an impressive spring. Linebackers Josh Aune and Cody Lindenberg should see extended time, and transfer defensive backs Ryan Stapp and Beanie Bishop should play.
WILL THERE BE TRICK PLAYS?
The Spring Game is a great chance to open the playbook and try some trick plays that could be implemented in the fall. Just look at Daniel Faalele as an example. In the last indoor spring scrimmage, Faalele scored a "fat guy" touchdown on a 1-yard run. In last year’s scrimmage outside, the 6-9, 380-pound tackle threw a touchdown pass in a situation near the goal line. In the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Faalele used his large frame for a short rushing touchdown against the Mountaineers.
Don’t rule out something similar, or a double reverse, hook-and-ladder, the Philly Special or some other trick play. They’re the perfect time to use them, and have a little fun.
Last year, the Gophers had nearly 10,000 fans at Huntington Bank Stadium on a perfect Saturday. If they can somehow get lucky with the weather, it could be another good turnout.