MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team held its annual Spring Game on Saturday, and it could not have been a better day at TCF Bank Stadium.
Up to 10,000 fans were in attendance in the first live sporting event for the Gophers since the 2020 Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. Maroon beat Gold 24-17 on a day mixed with fun and serious competition. There were two touchdowns by offensive linemen, a Philly Special touchdown for Tanner Morgan and a three-point shooting contest between Lindsay Whalen and Ben Johnson in lieu of a pregame coin toss.
Former players Carter Coughlin, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Kamal Martin were among the thousands in attendance ona perfect spring afternoon.
In the end, it was Whalen getting the Gatorade bath after Maroon’s victory. Here’s what to take away from Saturday’s game.
WHO RUNS THE BALL BEHIND MO IBRAHIM?
Mo Ibrahim will be the featured running back in the fall, there’s no doubting that after he was named the Big Ten Running Back of the Year in 2020, leading the league in both rushing yards and touchdowns. He was limited in spring football and did not play Saturday as he’s observing Ramadan. He did, however, dress like coach P.J. Fleck for the game.
So what’s behind Ibrahim? Cam Wiley led Maroon with nine carries for 33 yards, including the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Preston Jelen had six carries for 21 yards. The Gold team was led by Bryce Williams, who had eight carries for 33 yards. Trey Potts had 10 carries for 33 yards. The favorites to get carries after Ibrahim are Wiley, Potts and Williams.
DANIEL FA’ALELE, BRAELIN OLIVER RETURN
Two players back on the field for the Gophers were a sight for sore eyes. Daniel Fa’alele, a 400-pound offensive tackle who opted out of the 2020 season, played Saturday and threw a touchdown to Ko Kieft on a trick play. Linebacker Braelin Oliver, who missed most of spring football last year with an injury, had three tackles and one tackle for loss.
JAH JOYNER, NYLES PINCKNEY MAKE SPLASH ON DEFENSIVE LINE
Jah Joyner, who did not play in the 2020 season, made his impact known Saturday on the Maroon defense with five tackles and two sacks. He was named on the game MVP’s after. Clemson transfer defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney made three stops, including one on 4th down to create a turnover on downs.
WHO ARE THE WIDE RECEIVERS BEHIND CHRIS AUTMAN-BELL, DANIEL JACKSON?
We know Chris Autman-Bell and Daniel Jackson will be the top two receivers for the Gophers in 2021. Autman-Bell had four catches for 100 yards and a touchdown Saturday, and Jackson had four catches for 63 yards. So who’s next? Clay Geary made four catches for 74 yards to lead the Gold team. Freshman Brady Boyd made two catches for 60 yards. Michael Brown-Stephens had two catches on four targets for 25 yards. There are options, but the No. 3 receiver spot behind Autman-Bell and Jackson is, pun intended, up for grabs.
TERRELL SMITH MAKES BIG PLAYS
After a standout freshman season that featured 43 tackles, eight pass break-ups and an interception, we haven’t heard much about Terrell Smith in the last two seasons. He made noise on Saturday, nearly reeling in a one-handed interception in coverage on Jackson. On the last play of the game, Smith intercepted a Zack Annexstad fade headed for Jackson. Is it a sign that big things are coming for Smith in 2021? We’ll see.
WHERE DOES THE KICKING GAME STAND?
The Gophers might have finished 5-2 instead of 3-4 had they made kicks against Maryland and Wisconsin. The kicker competition remains unclear heading into the fall after the Spring Game. Brock Walker made his only attempt Saturday from 25 yards out. Dragan Kesich, also the kickoff specialist, was 1-for-2 with a make from 28 yards out, and hooking another kick wide right. Transfer kickers Matthew Trickett and Will Mobley are expected to join the team next month, so it’ll be an open competition in the fall.
CAN ZACK ANNEXSTAD WIN THE NO. 2 QB JOB?
Jacob Clark did not play Saturday, and Cole Kramer played one series in the second half. Tanner Morgan took a majority of the snaps for Maroon, and Zack Annexstad did the same for Gold. We expect Morgan to be the starter in the fall, but will Annexstad win the No. 2 job? He finished 14-of-23 for 232 yards Saturday, but threw two interceptions. Freshman Athan Kaliakmanis will join the team this summer, but the expectation is the No. 2 job is Annexstad’s to lose in the fall. He beat Morgan in fall camp for the starting job two seasons ago, and has been battling injuries since.