Minnesota handing out plenty of compliments to Bobcats

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 12, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS - It's an annual rite of September for college football coaches to lather lesser foes with superficial praise.

When it's a Big Ten team talking about a Mid-American Conference opponent, however, the compliments hold far more credence.

''There are a lot of guys in the Mid-American Conference who could play in the Big Ten, and there are a lot of guys in the Big Ten who should be playing in the Mid-American Conference,'' Minnesota coach Glen Mason said Tuesday - and several times in the past.

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Mason knows both conferences well, since he coached at Kent State for two seasons before taking the job at Kansas in 1988. He also has experienced the familiar MAC upset of a supposedly better team from the Big Ten - twice.

The Gophers lost at Toledo in 2001 and were beaten at home the previous year by Ohio University.

Ohio (not State) has returned to Minnesota's schedule this season. The Gophers (2-0) play the Bobcats Saturday afternoon at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio.

''I can tell you that I'm focused,'' Mason said when asked whether it would be easier to get his team's attention in practice and meetings this week because of the defeat three years ago.

The Bobcats (1-1) racked up 363 yards rushing in that stunning 23-17 victory over the Gophers, who went 6-6 and played in the Micronpc.com Bowl.

Mason said he still dreams about the rushing total every once in awhile.

''It was definitely a setback for that team that year,'' said quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq, who completed 10 of 28 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns and an interception as a freshman in the Ohio game.

To avoid another setback, the Gophers must contain the Bobcats' ''flexbone'' offense. The system grew out of Fisher DeBerry's wishbone at Air Force, where Ohio coach Brian Knorr was a quarterback in the mid-1980s.

Knorr replaced one-time Air Force assistant Jim Grobe, who left to take the head coaching job at Wake Forest following the 2000 season.

The scheme relies on running and deception behind a widely-spaced line. The Bobcats don't throw much, but they often can surprise opponents for big gains when they do. Quarterback Fred Ray leads the team in rushing with 15 carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns, and he's 15-for-25 for 156 yards through the air.

In a 48-20 loss to Iowa State last week, Ohio scored on a 68-yard TD run by Ray and an 80-yard TD pass from backup Ryan Hawk to Scott Mayle.

''If we give up those big plays, we'll have some problems,'' Mason said.

The wishbone-style offense is used sparingly around the country these days, and players' unfamiliarity with it make it difficult to simulate in practice.

''It gives your defense fits,'' said Gophers defensive tackle Darrell Reid, a redshirt in 2000. ''You've got to be very disciplined.''

The Bobcats also use an unconventional 3-4 alignment on defense.

''If we can get our running game going, I really don't see any difference,'' said Abdul-Khaliq, who has watched Thomas Tapeh, Terry Jackson II, Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney combine for 446 yards and seven touchdowns rushing in the first two games.