Andy Greder / St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Ben Leber can admit it now. When the former Vikings linebacker retired after a 10-year NFL career in 2011 and transitioned to broadcasting, he was "lost" behind the microphone. It was a feeling that lasted years. "I don't think I felt comfortable being in the booth until a year and a half ago," Leber said. "There was a point midseason where I was much more confident in what I was doing and much more confident in my prep."
ST. PAUL — Gophers coach P.J. Fleck selects three plays that demonstrate great work ethic from each game and highlights them during video study — one play apiece from offensive, defense and special teams. The top play from Minnesota's 48-10 win over New Mexico State on Thursday, Aug. 30, was an obvious choice: Antoine Winfield's 76-yard, tackle-breaking punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter. The redshirt sophomore safety broke five tackles, with key blocks coming from Calvin Swenson, Seth Green and Matt Morse.
MINNEAPOLIS — Iowa tight end Noah Fant and Michigan linebacker Chase Winovich mocked the "Row the Boat" mantra in celebrations after big plays against the Gophers last season, just two instances of opponents poking fun at the phrase Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck embraced after his infant son, Colt, died of a heart condition in 2011.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers can feel good about a season-opening, 48-10 victory over New Mexico State on Thursday, Aug. 30, but it must taken with a bag of salt. For Minnesota, it was the perfect situation to break in a new starting quarterback, and for 25 other true- or redshirt-freshmen to play in their first games.
MINNEAPOLIS — Ray Buford is coming full circle. The former Gophers cornerback, expelled from the University of Minnesota for his alleged role in the sexual misconduct case in 2016, is set to play for New Mexico State in the U's season opener at 6 p.m. Thursday at TCF Bank Stadium. "Get to see all my boys play this weekend," Buford tweeted Monday. "Yessirrrr." His Twitter account listed his location as "Road to Redemption."
MINNEAPOLIS — On paper, the Gophers' pass defense put up some strong numbers last season. Minnesota ranked 11th in the nation in passing yards allowed (174 a game) and led the country in fewest passing plays for more than 30 yards (eight). Impressive, but only half the story. The Gophers' rush defense was below average, 74th among Division I programs, allowing 172 yards per game. More important, they rarely forced opponents to throw the ball in a 5-7 season. "It wasn't very good," Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said during fall camp.
MINNEAPOLIS — Auburn set the median across college football's passing offenses last season, averaging 233 yards per game. The Gophers, meanwhile, eclipsed that middle-of-the-road mark only once in 12 games in 2017, with 239 yards in the season-opening 17-7 win over Buffalo. It was all downhill from there.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers offense has had plenty of talking points during fall camp — a quarterback competition won by true freshman Zack Annexstad, an influx of athletic wide receivers led by Rashod Bateman and depth questions behind starting running back Rodney Smith. One topic, however, has been off the radar: the offensive line, which has stuck with pretty much the same starting five since camp opened Aug. 1. It's been left tackle Donnell Greene, left guard Conner Olson, center Jared Weyler, right tackle Blaise Andries and right tackle Sam Schlueter.
MINNEAPOLIS — Major League Soccer has promoted this Thursday-to-Sunday stretch as "rivalry week," but the Saturday night, Aug. 25, Minnesota United-Sporting Kansas City match has been excluded from the league's nine featured games. From a Loons perspective, that's probably best, because all three prior games at Children's Mercy Park have been polar opposites of the hotly contested games that engender the bitterness vital for a matchup to be called a rivalry.
ST. PAUL — Brazilian defensive midfielder Fernando Bob has signed a contract with Minnesota United through the rest of the 2018 season, the club announced Tuesday, Aug. 21. Bob, whose full name is Fernando Paixao de Silva, most recently played in November for Internacional in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The 30-year-old established himself with the Brazilian team Ponte Preta, where he caught the eye of Loons coach Adrian Heath.