A sneak peak of the 2021 Gopher Football squad, what did we learn?
TCF Bank Stadium had some fans, the sun was out and on an absolutely beautiful spring after, the Gopher football team held their spring game.
It has been my experience that the spring game is really quite useless for gleaning information about who is primed to break out or what we can really expect from this 2021 team in terms of overall success. If a particular player looks good, if a key player struggles or is the team just looks out of sync in April…it really doesn’t matter.
I highly doubt we will actually see a reverse to Michael Brown-Stephens who passes it to Tanner Morgan for a 3rd and goal touchdown, like we saw for Maroon’s opening touchdown. You may recall back in the say when Berkley Edwards had a monster spring game, only to never really be a factor in the fall.
But this doesn’t make the spring game completely useless. This Gopher team is poised to have an elite 2021 season and today gave us an opportunity to see how a few of the team’s question marks are going to be answered.
The maroon team, led by Tanner Morgan and Chris Autman-Bell, moved the ball with relative ease through the air. They jumped out to an 17-3 lead. But Zack Annexstad marched his gold team down the field, scoring a touchdown right before “halftime” to cut the lead to 17-10.
Both teams employed a little trickeration, keeping the game entertaining. Maroon opened the scoring with a reverse to Michael Brown-Stephens who passed to a wide open Tanner Morgan for 6. Gold’s touchdown was a direct snap to the massive Daneiel Fa’alele who then passed to a wide open Ko Kieft. Sam Schlueter also got a carry for a touchdown for the gold team, tying the game up in the 2nd half.
The second half was really all gold team. Annexstad made a couple really nice throws to Jackson and Brady Boyd while the gold defense frustrated Morgan’s maroon offense. Morgan and his receivers did not look nearly as sharp after halftime.
Tied 17-17 going into the final quarter and the maroon team managed a quick 3-and-out. But a Derik LeCaptain picked Annexstad, giving Morgan and maroon 1st down from the gold 40 yard line with under 10 min remaining. Morgan connects to Brown-Stephens on a 3rd and 10. And after a fumble put them in another 3rd and long, Morgan found Autman-Bell again for a huge conversion. Both big plays set up a Cam Wiley touchdown run to give them the lead with 3:11 left.
Gold took the ball for their final drive and Annexstad looked very comfortable leading his team down the field, twice hitting Clay Geary and getting gold into the red zone. Terell Smith broke up a pass to Jackson in the end zone, making a key play for maroon.
The game came down to 4th and 8 for gold with under a minute and the ball on the 13-yard line and the game on the line. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. Annexstad to Geary (again) got the ball down to the 3 on a great pass and catch in tight coverage.
But Terell Smith picked off a pass in the end zone and maroon won the coveted Goldy’s Cup 24-17.
Who Looked Good*
The connection of Tanner Morgan to Chris Autman-Bell looked VERY good. Morgan connect with CAB twice for deep passes along the sideline. One for 34 yards on a third down play and the other for 28 yards and a touchdown. These two were expected to by key to the Gopher offense in 2021 and both looked the part today.
Zack Annexstad also looked very good. After not being able to play in 2019 due to injury and not seeing any action in 2020, it was good to see Annexstad looking extremely comfortable and confident in the pocket. In the first half, Annexstad was 6/8 for 98 yards and looked like the guy we can absolutely count on should there be a need to dig into the quarterback depth chart. He was connecting with Daniel Jackson frequently and he looks like he will be a nice compliment to CAB in the passing game.
Defensively each side had a few defensive players who stood out.
Jalen Glaze had a forced fumble for gold. MJ Anderson got to the quarterback with a speed rush on a 3rd down play. And Calvin Swenson was also often in the right place to make plays.
Jah Joyner with two sacks for the maroon team, Terell Smith looked very good (especially in the 2nd half) and Tyler Nubin led this side with 7 tackles and 1 TFL.
*please note again that spring game accolades are relatively meaningless.
Offensive Line Depth
This team has a few position groups that are incredibly deep. Defensive tackle, linebacker and offensive line are very deep with several guys capable of starting and making solid contributions. Along the OL it was good to be able to see who fills in for that next level of dept.
We can name the 6 names along the offensive line who are going to contribute to what promises to be a very good unit. Blaise Andries, Sam Schlueter, Connor Olson, Curtis Dunlap Jr., Daniel Fa’alele, and John Michael Schmitz give this team 6 quality offensive linemen with some flexibility should there be an injury. But who comes next? Michael-Schmitz was not playing today, but we did get a look at the next 5 names who we’d expect to contribute if needed.
Well we saw some interesting things. The Gold team was actually stacked along the OL with 4 of the 6 names mentioned above “starting” along their line. Interesting was #55 Karter Shaw, the Utah State transfer, in as the team’s center.
The Maroon team had Connor Olson at RG with the other 4 guys playing as that next level of depth. JJ Guedet and Aireontae Ersery were playing at the tackle spots. Nathan Boe was the maroon’s center and Axel Ruschmeyer was at the left guard. Those are the names to know for the future as the 2021 offensive line is going to look very different than the 2022 line.
After Autman-Bell, there is a lot of opportunity for snaps at receiver. Today we saw 6 guys getting the majority of reps.
- #7 Autman-Bell
- #9 Daniel Jackson
- #22 Micheal Brown-Stepens
- #0 Lemeke Brockington
- #18 Clay Geary
- #14 Brady Boyd
That list was really in no particular order, other than Autman-Bell and Jackson led their respective teams in targets. Those two are going to be the primary weapons on the outside and both had some highlight catches today.
Who were the freshmen who were playing? Well Brady Boyd looked like the freshman who stood out the most.
Redshirt frehmen Danny Striggow and Jalen Glaze saw a lot of action. Both were regular fixtures on the field, seeing a lot of snaps.
A Perfect Day
Ultimately this was an absolutely beautiful day, the game was rather entertaining and it appeared as though the team did not sustain any injuries. A perfect spring game for the Golden Gophers.
Now we start the countdown to the 2021 season and what may be another special Gopher team.