Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019


 

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Murray's Restaurant


U Boiler Wreckers Back Again

 

University of Minnesota running backs Shannon Brooks, Rodney Smith and Mohamed Ibrahim are already names passionate Purdue fans should long remember. And Saturday afternoon in West Lafayette Boiler Nation has another look at the trio when the 3-0 Golden Gophers visit 1-2 Purdue in the opening Big Ten game of the season for both teams.

Injuries have troubled Brooks for much of his career but he has been cleared to play against the Boilermakers Saturday and he could make his season debut in the ESPN2 televised game. “I think there’s that spunk, that look in his eye, that he cannot wait to get back on the field,” Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck said.

Brooks played in just one game last season and six the year before, but 2016 and 2015 were healthier seasons for the Georgia native known for his exceptional field vision and slashing style. He had a career high 176 yards rushing at Purdue in the 2015 game Minnesota dominated and won, 41-13. His 17 rushes included a 71-yard touchdown run. And although the Gophers lost at Purdue in 2017, Brooks rushed for 116 yards on 18 carries.

Smith, a redshirt senior and Georgia native like Brooks, had one of his best days in 2016 against Purdue in Minneapolis. Smith ran for 153 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries as the Gophers won, 43-31. The 153 yards was his most ever in a single game until he equaled the total against New Mexico State in 2018. A hard runner who can turn short gains into longer ones, Smith is in the top 10 for most career rushing attempts and yards in Minnesota program history.

With Brooks and Smith injured last season, the Gophers turned to then redshirt freshman Ibrahim to help them to a 41-10 win in Minneapolis. Among the more determined runners in the Big Ten, Ibrahim ran for 155 yards on 18 carries, an impressive 8.6 yards per carry. That was his best as a Gopher until he dominated Georgia Tech with 224 yards rushing in Minnesota’s Quick Lane Bowl win.

Brooks, Smith and Ibrahim have befuddled the Boilermakers in the past and Minnesota will want more of the same Saturday. Minnesota’s offensive game plan every week is to control the football and the clock, with an emphasis on running . The Gophers rank 10th nationally in time of possession at an average per game of 34:36.

Minnesota will want to keep the ball away from a Purdue offense averaging 371 yards passing per game, tops in the Big Ten and fourth nationally. The Boilers, however, are rushing for just 50 yards each game. Purdue is third worst in the conference in rushing defense, giving up 175.3 yards.

Not to be greedy but Brooks, Smith and Ibrahim have to hope at least one of them adds a page or two Saturday to their “Purdue scrapbooks.”

Worth Noting

The Gophers have won five of their last six against the Boilermakers, but the game Saturday looks like a tossup for those who wager. Minnesota is 3-0 in nonconference games but has won by a total of only 13 points, and going into the season was considered a lesser team to Purdue by college football authorities. Purdue has key injuries and has won only one nonconference game, but is playing at home and with an explosive offense could take an early lead and make it difficult for the Gophers to catch up.

Minnesota has won five of its last 18 Big Ten games, but coincidentally holds the nation’s longest nonconference winning streak at 18 straight.

Gophers basketball coach Lindsay Whalen has a five-star commit in Alexia Smith from Ohio. That will help the 2020 recruiting class because three of the top state of Minnesota prospects are headed elsewhere: Paige Bueckers of Hopkins to Connecticut, Lauren Jensen of Lakeville North to Iowa, and Alyssa Ustby of Rochester Lourdes to North Carolina.

Look for the Vikings, who since last year are annually scheduling Friday night prep football games at TCO Stadium in Eagan, to arrange for future matchups involving Minneapolis and St. Paul teams. Among schools under consideration should be Washburn, the first big school state champion when the Minnesota High School League created the football playoffs in the 1970s.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins wowed business and other community leaders while speaking at Tuesday’s Twin Cities Dunkers meeting at the Minikahda Club. Cousins was inspiring and informative in his remarks including when he talked about the power of free enterprise and how much business does for society.

Cousins is a Murray’s patron and enjoys the downtown restaurant that opened in 1946, and is still a city favorite.

This year the Vikings are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 team that had a 12-2 regular season record and played in the 1970 Super Bowl. One of the team’s two losses came in the opening game against the New York Giants whose roster included Bob Lurtsema. He was awarded the game ball by the Giants for his performance in the 24-23 win. After joining the Vikings in 1971 he later became Benchwarmer Bob, backing up one of the great NFL defensive lines in history.

Lurtsema, 77, regularly walks about four miles at Orchard Lake near his home in Lakeville.

The 3M Open, scheduled next year for July 20-26, avoids the busy July 4 holiday that the PGA Tour Event faced in 2019. There is a seven-year commitment to hold the tournament at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine. Sports Headliners is told that only in 2023 might dates conflict with the Fourth of July period.

Richard Pitino

Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino expects that redshirt junior forward Eric Curry, who missed much of last season because of injuries, will be ready when the schedule starts in November. Curry, who has shown skill but been slowed by injuries during his Minnesota career, will be a key player on a team reorganizing after the departures last spring of the two best players, forward-guard Amir Coffey and forward Jordan Murphy.

With the team in early practices for the 125th season of Gophers basketball, Pitino isn’t sure about many things with his team but believes a strength could be outside shooting. Now starting his seventh season, Pitino has coached two of his last three teams to the NCAA Tournament. “I think we’re building stability,” he said.

Dave Wright, sports information director at Hamline, announced on Facebook Monday he is retiring from his position in October. His varied experiences in communications include working for the St. Paul Saints in their early years under Mike Veeck.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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