Gophers host night practice open to fans at Huntington Bank Stadium

The University of Minnesota football team is five days into fall camp, and Saturday they went under the lights for a night practice at Huntington Bank Stadium.

It was one of two workouts open to the public before the Gophers open the 2023 season against Nebraska at Huntington Bank Stadium on Aug. 31, a game you can watch on FOX 9. It’s one of three open to media, and it was Family Day as the Gophers collected decorated oars for the stadium tunnel and more than 12,000 diapers for the Diaper Bank of Minnesota, which will go to families in need. Saturday's workout replaced the Spring Game that was closed to fans back in April after inclement weather earlier in the week.

PJ Fleck held Saturday’s workout at 7 p.m., with opening kickoff against the Cornhuskers 27 days away at the same time. It’s part of his plan during fall camp to change up the schedule, and venues. The Gophers will also have a practice at TCO Performance Center, the practice home of the Vikings, and other locations. Big Ten Network also took in Saturday’s workout.

"This is the first piece of pressure in five days that they’ve had with people watching them. We want to give them that as fast as possible," Fleck said. "We’re going to the Vikings facility like we always do, we’ll go inside on random days to just give them a different environment."

Fleck is entering his seventh season at Minnesota with a 44-27 career mark, including 26-26 in Big Ten play. Earlier this offseason, he learned USC and UCLA are coming to the Big Ten in 2024. Late this week, Oregon and Washington are following suit.

Fleck and the Gophers will soon be making trips to the Pacific Northwest.

"Listen I think it’s exciting. Change is inevitable, there’s movement in college football all the time. I think we get caught up and think this is the only time there’s ever been movement. I think it’s really drastic movement in a good way," Fleck said. "There’s people above my pay grade that are making those decisions and I just know this, we’re in one of the best leagues in the world and we can just watch how it all plays out. Our focus is Nebraska, that’s a long way away. It’s exciting to talk about, I’m a fan of college football like all of you, but I think it’s exciting."

On the field, Saturday’s workout was largely won by the defense. Jalen Logan-Redding had a sack in a team drill, and Aidan Gousby ran back an interception for a touchdown.

Daniel Jackson, Elijah Spencer and Brevyn Spann-Ford were popular targets for Athan Kaliakmanis in team situations. Spann-Ford was a full participant for practice for the first time since the Pinstripe Bowl. One of the top returning receivers missed the entire spring after having shoulder surgery. 

Chris Autman-Bell was also on the field and in pads, but had a light day after practicing with limited reps on Friday as he works his way back from a season-ending knee injury last year against Colorado.

On the offensive line, starting spots appear to be solidified for Nathan Boe, Aireontae Ersery and Quinn Carroll. But left guard and right tackle are open competitions. There’s also a competition in the running back room between Darius Taylor, Sean Tyler and Zach Evans for the starting job.

"There’s tons of competition at every position. We’re five days in and we’ve put more in front of these guys than we ever have and it doesn’t phase them," Fleck said.

Minnesota’s final practice open to the public is set for Tuesday, Aug. 15 at Athletes Village.