Gophers strength and conditioning coach Dan Nichol poured ice water on the players as they ran out for practice Tuesday, letting the cubes drip down their bare backs underneath their jerseys for most of the session.
The receivers and quarterbacks dipped their hands into ice buckets before each series. The players handled frozen footballs, wet footballs. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck pumped up the air conditioning in the indoor facility, dropping the temperature as low as possible to around the high 50s.
Basically, the Gophers did everything short of renting a snow machine and giant fans to prepare the team for a potentially chilly game this weekend at TCF Bank Stadium.
When the Gophers play Nebraska at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the weather projections have the temperature around the upper 30s with snow or rain possible. Fleck said most of these measures are “psychological,” while rush end Carter Coughlin said he was unsure if it would make a huge difference to feel the shock of the cold now or in a couple of days. But essentially, better safe than sorry.
The passing game, particularly, has learned this week how to better handle the environmental factors. Both quarterback Tanner Morgan and the receivers let the misty and windy condition against Illinois this past weekend affect them, whether from misthrows or drops. Fleck said the receivers have worked on more body catches and settling for the first down instead of trying to break away for big yardage when the conditions make that more difficult.
Practice this week might actually be tougher than game day, when Morgan said the team will have use of hand warmers and heated benches.
“We love it when it’s cold, when it’s snowing. This is Minnesota. It’s going to do that,” Morgan said. “And that’s an advantage for us.”
Tight ends’ impact
Fleck called tight ends Jake Paulson and Ko Kieft “unsung heroes” of the Illinois game. Their blocks helped the Gophers to 332 rushing yards.
“We’ve been missing that the last few games,” Fleck said. “I felt like they haven’t played up to the standard of what we needed them to be able to do to have success in the run game. But I thought they did [against Illinois]. … They really stepped up.”
That position also lit up the scoreboard with Brevyn Spann-Ford’s first touchdown catch. Fleck said on his radio show Tuesday that Spann-Ford has all the makings of a great tight end but just needs to add the physicality to finish blocks.
Apparently, he has two good examples of that in the room with him.
Fleck said on his radio show that right tackle Daniel Faalele was “good to go” for Saturday. Faalele left the Illinois game early because of an apparent injury.
The coach also mentioned how all the running backs were healthy and practicing. Mohamed Ibrahim has not had a rushing attempt in the past three games after a non-contact leg injury from practice. The injury has taken a little longer to heal than Fleck expected, but he plans on Ibrahim playing Saturday.