Oct. 1, 2010
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
He has been sidelined since he fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot even before his team left Evanston for Camp Kenosha. But junior safety David Arnold is again healthy and expected to play Saturday when the 'Cats visit Minnesota. "I'm so ready. I'm excited," he said after a recent practice.
"It's terrible not playing. The schedule is still demanding. But the difference is I'm in the weight room or the training room when all my teammates, all my friends, are out here enjoying what we love to do. So it's exciting being back out here. It's been a long seven, eight weeks, however long it's been. I'm definitely excited about an opportunity to help the team win in whatever role that is for me right now. I'm just having fun, getting everybody excited, trying to add a little juice to everything."
You often hear, we tell him, that an injured player can feel as if he's not part of his team. Did he suffer through that?
"You definitely feel a sense of that. You're here, you're in the meetings and all that. But since you're not in the action, not in the mix, not going through what everybody else is going through -- like two-a-days, long nights after practice in the cold tub and that stuff -- you don't build that sense of camaraderie, that bond. You miss out on that."
Arnold, before going down, had been penciled in to start at safety along side Brian Peters. Now that job is held down by Hunter Bates, who merely had a team-leading 11 tackles in their win last Saturday over Central Michigan. That was why, not surprisingly, Fitzgerald was asked if a player could lose his spot because of injury. "If you're playing well, if you're helping our team win, we're going to play the hot hand," he said. "You're not going to ever lose a job because you were hurt. But you've got to come back after an injury and prove yourself. The good news is when you get a guy back from injury, you've got some competition. Now here we go back to that broken record I keep playing.
"What we've tried to do is create a program that has, top to bottom, competition at every position. We don't walk in after Kenosha and say, 'All right. Jobs are done. Everybody's good. We'll talk at the end of the year and hopefully you'll have a good season, get better and maybe in the spring you can come back and compete.' No. It's the other way around. Every rep matters. Every play counts, in practice and in games, no matter what the situation is. Our guys understand that. We reserve the right to play the best 11 players on every play. I don't care if you're a senior, a walk-on.
"I think that's why our guys enjoy playing here. They know they have an opportunity to play. If they compete, they have a chance to play."
The Gophers have dropped three straight, all at home, and near the end of their loss last Saturday to Northern Illinois, their fans were chanting for the head of coach Tim Brewster. They are, then, wounded and cornered and desperate for a win, which is often the profile of a team that ends up being a tough out. Does 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald agree with that thinking? "Just pop in the tape. This is an outstanding football team," he replies.
"People say, 'You've said they're an outstanding-coached team. How are they 1-3?' Pop in the tape. Their schemes are very sound. What they do is very good. It hasn't all clicked together. But they've been in every game. Every game they could have won. . .(and) they've played some really good teams. So I'm not concerned about what's being said externally. I'm just taking what I see on video. I think that's an outstanding football team we're playing. I hope they don't get untracked against us."
Echoed Brewster himself earlier this week: "My expectation was to be 4-0 at this point. With all my heart I believe we should be and could be 4-0."
Here is Fitzgerald on entering the Big Ten portion of the schedule: "The cool thing is we're all 0-0. The real season starts now. I learned a long time ago from Coach (Gary) Barnett as a player and from talking to a lot of my brethren in the coaching field, you've got to be careful who you listen to. Good, bad or indifferent. When things are going well and you're winning games, those little mistakes, everything goes away. When you're not winning a game here and there, people become impatient. That's OK. That's what we signed up for as coaches. We're big boys. You take the good with the bad. But Tim's a great coach."
As Fitzgerald likes to say, "Statistics are for losers." Still. The Gophs' offense is averaging 26.5 points and 417.5 yards and 23 first downs per game. That is just a shade worse than the 'Cats, whose numbers are 30 and 419.8 and 23.25. On the flip side, their rushing defense has given up a whopping 187.8 yards per game and is statistically the worst in the Big Ten.
In this era of giddy-up offenses that feature pitch-and-catch, the Gophs are a throwback to those days of smash mouth and ball control. In their opener at Middle Tennessee State, whom they defeated by seven, they held onto the ball for 45 minutes and 34 seconds and, before having to play catch-up last week against Northern, they had run on 64.8 percent of their plays (just 77 passes to 142 rushes). It is no surprise, then, that their average time-of-possession is 35:34, which is tops in the conference and second-best in the nation. (The 'Cats number is 33:13, which is fourth best in the conference and 15th best in the nation.)
"Our mindset when we go into games is. . .to limit the number of snaps that we're on the field defensively," Brewster said earlier this week. "I think that's no secret. I think every team in America would like to see their offense have time-of-possession advantage."
There's a good reason Brewster likes to keep his defense off the field. It returned only two starters from last season and one of them, safety Kim Royston, broke his leg in spring practice and has yet to play a down.
Quickly noted: Adam Weber is still around as the Goph quarterback and will make his 43rd consecutive start against the 'Cats. . . Keep an eye on the 6-foot-4, 230 pound MarQueis Gray. He was an All-Everything high school quarterback in Indianapolis, but is now being used as a wide receiver and ranks third in the Big Ten with his 22 catches. . . Both Fitzgerald and Brewster vacation in Naples, Fla., where they often bump into each other. Then? "Usually when we talk, we talk about our families. On vacation, we try not to talk a whole lot about football. It's more relaxed than anything.". . . Homecoming Saturday for both the Gophs and 'Cat linebacker Bryce McNaul, who was a prep star in Eden Prairie, and reserve defensive lineman Brian Arnfelt, who starred at Stillwater H.S. in Lake Elmo, just east of St. Paul. . . Brewster decorated the Gophs' football complex this week with signs that simply read, "0-0." "To help our players in their mindset," he explained.
And finally: The other finalist for the job given to Brewster was the contentious Lane Kiffin, who stirred the waters during his one season at Tennessee and now is at USC.
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