MINNEAPOLIS — No, the Gophers haven’t been asked to carry footballs with them to class this week. They’re not cuddling up next to the pigskins at night. But they’ve been sternly warned to start taking better care of the ball.
“If we just value the football and take care of the ball like we know we should, we know exactly where we could be at this point,” coach Tim Brewster said. “We could very easily be a 4-0 football team. Obviously we’re not.”
With 16 turnovers and only four forced by the defense through four games, Minnesota ranks last in giveaway-takeaway margin out of 119 teams in the NCAA’s top tier. The Gophers, who play Ohio State on Saturday, have allowed more yards passing — more than 407 per game — than any other team, but their turnover problem has been equally responsible for a 1-3 start to the season.
Last year, Minnesota committed only 14 turnovers and led the nation with a plus-18 margin.
“You have to consciously value the football,” quarterback Adam Weber said. “That’s the first thing you learn when you play football … to protect the football and how to hold it and everything. It’s been a big emphasis for us this year.”
Weber has thrown eight interceptions, but he lost a fumble in last week’s 45-31 loss to Purdue, too.
“I’m going to put the same demands on him as I do the running backs. We’ve got to have ball security,” Brewster said this week, noting that he expressed his disappointment with Weber’s turnovers in a pointed discussion with the redshirt freshman after Saturday’s game.
Brewster was so upset with co-captain Amir Pinnix that the senior didn’t touch the ball again after a second-quarter fumble at the Purdue 14-yard line. Pinnix lost one at the goal line the week before in the loss at Florida Atlantic.
“When he makes critical mistakes he’s really focusing on that mistake,” freshman teammate Duane Bennett said. “As a group of running backs, we’re trying to bring his spirits back up, because he’s the leader of the group. He’s a senior, so we try to keep him focused because we still have a game at hand to win.”
Bennett stepped in as the featured back with seven carries for 81 yards and a touchdown after halftime. This week, Brewster has listed Pinnix and Bennett on the same line on the depth chart, but he attributed that to a turf-toe injury Pinnix has been fighting for a few weeks. The coach also said sophomore Jay Thomas will play on Saturday against Ohio State’s defense, which ranks seventh in the country with an average of 57.5 yards rushing allowed per game.
“We’re looking at just who gives us the best chance to win, whether or not on Saturday night it’s Amir,” Brewster said, adding that he would name a starter later in the week. “It’s a tremendous situation for us to have three guys … who can all help us in a big, big way.”
Bennett is from the St. Louis area, just like Laurence Maroney — who starred in the backfield for the Gophers from 2003-05. On his recruiting visit, Maroney encouraged him to come to Minnesota — enough that Bennett maintained his commitment after Brewster replaced the fired Glen Mason.
He’s even wearing No. 22, just like Maroney. And Saturday’s performance gave him plenty of confidence.
“Now I really have a shot to become a great back in the Big Ten,” he said.
COLUMBUS — What’s brewing today with the 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes …
BUCKEYE BUZZ: Ohio State coaches are chiding their players to not be overconfident when they play sad-sack Minnesota on Saturday night. But Golden Gophers coach Tim Brewster is trying to encourage it.
“I’ve been in the National Football League for the past five years, and what I’m looking at (in Ohio State) looks like an AFC West team,” Brewster said earlier this week. “They’ve got an outstanding collection of football players on their team. It’s exactly what I’d expect the Ohio State football team to have.”
Brewster was the tight ends coach for the San Diego Chargers from 2002-2004 and the Denver Broncos from 2005-2006.
The rookie college head coach — he hasn’t been a head coach at any level since Central Catholic HS in Lafayette, Ind., in 1987-88 — said his team can pull off the upset but it must work hard all week and focus on the task at hand.
“Like (former Chargers coach) Marty Schottenheimer told me, ‘Winning is not hard — it’s the willingness to prepare to win that’s hard,”‘ Brewster said. “We’re still teaching our kids about that process.”
HENTON ADDENDUM: According to police records, backup QB Antonio Henton negotiated a price of $20 for a sex act with a female officer when he was arrested on charges of soliciting prostitution Monday night.
But he had only $19 in his pockets.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Backup center and fullback (how about THAT for versatility?) Tyler Whaley, on his nickname: “My job is to run over people. Somebody calls me Tank, I figure that’d be about the best nickname I could have.”
NIGHT MOVES: This will mark the first time Ohio State has ever played three regular-season night games in a season, starting with Saturday’s 8 p.m. kickoff at Minnesota. The Buckeyes are 28-11 in night games all-time, including 6-1 at home, 14-6 on the road and 8-4 in bowl games.
A road game at night means a lot of waiting for the players.
“I wouldn’t say boring, but we do get anxious — especially watching other teams play (on TV),” TB Maurice Wells said. “It’s like, ‘Man, I’m ready to go out there and rock’ and then you look over at the clock and you still have four hours before you even go over to the stadium. It’s definitely hard but our guys are up to it. We’ve done it a couple times.”