By Mark Mayorga
Daily Cougar Staff
Minnesota comes into this week's game against Houston after a shaky opening to the 1998 season. In their season opener against Arkansas State, the Golden Gophers were less than golden.
The game was in doubt until senior place-kicker Adam Bailey's 17-yard field goal with four seconds left on the clock enabled the Gophers to squeak out a 17-14 victory.
Coming off a 3-9 season, the Arkansas State game looked to be a sure-win situation, but the Indians had other plans and nearly came away with a win.
On the game's opening kick-off, junior Tyrone Carter took the ball for an 86 yard touchdown. After Carter's heroics, the offense drove the ball 80 yards, capped off by a Thomas Hamner touchdown.
After looking to be on the verge of getting blown out, the Indians came back with 14 unanswered points of their own.
Although Gopher quarterback Billy Cockerham played most of the game, he sat out most of the third quarter in favor of Andy Persby. Persby, a transfer from Kentucky, has a rifle of an arm, yet his lack of touch has made him prone to overthrows and poor judgment. In contrast, Cockerham is more of a mobile quarterback. He threw for 79 yards on 9-of-14 passing and also ran for 65 yards. Cockerham's strengths are his ability to scramble out of the pocket and make a play with his running talents.
"I'd say that heading into next week, Billy Cockerham will be the starter because he moved the team and he put us in scoring position when we needed it," said head coach Glen Mason.
Junior Thomas Hamner is Minnesota's featured back, along with Byron Evans. Hamner ran for 137 yards and a touchdown against ASU, and he possesses the talent to cut-back and has the ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
Sophomore Antoine Henderson and freshman Michael Mullen will try to be the Gophers' answer at wide receiver, but they were unable to make plays against a very weak Indian secondary.
Coming into this season, Mason hoped he would see a revived offense in 1998, but after a meek season opener it is clear that Minnesota has room to improve, and indeed may have taken steps back.
After being ranked fifth in the Big Ten in rushing defense, the Gophers allowed the Indians only five net yards on the ground, but gave up 264 through the air.
Antoine Richard and Josh Rawlings anchor this season's defensive line that was more than capable of stopping ASU's run and collected 4 sacks as they put pressure on the quarterback all day long.
The secondary for the Gophers is bound to be one of the best in years, but it couldn't stop a very weak offensive team from Arkansas. It may turn out that one of their strong points has a few weak links in their chain.
Minnesota plays in a conference with Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan, all of which are among the best teams in the country. However, the Golden Gophers are not even close to being as good as their Big Ten counterparts this season.