The ‘Big’ Ten challenge

Deanna Stevens

Minnesota’s running attack hampered by off-field problems

With a win, or at least a competitive game, the Kent State football team can erase the stigma of a one-win 2005 season.

When the Flashes take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers at 7:30 p.m. at Dix Stadium, they have an opportunity to do something they didn’t do at all last season – beat a Division I-A opponent.

However, beating the first Big Ten team to ever visit Dix Stadium will not be an easy task. Minnesota has made six bowl appearances in the past seven years and posted a 7-5 record last season. But the team was only 4-4 in the Big Ten last year and finished No. 7 in the division.

This season, Minnesota is returning seven starters from both sides of the ball. Kent State coach Doug Martin pinpointed two of those starters as major threats: seniors quarterback Bryan Cupito and tight end Matt Spaeth.

“(Spaeth) is as good of a tight end that there is in the country,” Martin said. “Right now he’s picked as the number one draftable tight end in the country. Cupito, the quarterback, is very experienced, doesn’t make mistakes.”

When it comes down it, the Flashes are going to face a two-headed Gopher. Minnesota is the only team in the nation to run and pass for more than 2,000 yards in the past three seasons.

“They are what they are,” Martin said. “They’re going to line up and run the football. And they are going to throw some play-action passes over your head when they get a chance.”

Minnesota’s offensive style is a zone-rushing offense, rather than a power type. Martin said the Gophers’ excellent running game is a result of good blocking. Last season they averaged 273 rushing yards per game.

While the Gophers are notable for rushing, they lost two of their primary weapons: Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell, both of whom rushed for more than 1,000 yards respectively in 2005. Maroney is now in the NFL playing for the New England Patriots. Russell was deemed academically ineligible earlier this summer.

“Thank God (Maroney) came out early, because there is a reason he’s starting for the Patriots right now,” Martin said. “I’m sure whoever they put back there will be quality. But it’s the guys up front that really make the difference.”

Junior Amir Pinnix looks to be number one on Minnesota’s depth chart at running back. But the Gophers could see some trouble backing him up at the position. They lost another candidate, junior-college transfer Brylee Callender, after he was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules in mid-August. Redshirt freshman Jay Thomas was suspended for the game against the Flashes two days after Callender for the same reason.

Defensively, the Gophers held their opponents to 28.5 points per game last year. Yet, that statistic is deceiving because of the high-scoring losses against Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. In their seven wins they gave up only 19 points per game and averaged 36.5 themselves.

Contact football reporter Deanna Stevens at [email protected].