Tim Brewster brings Minnesota to Champaign

Tim Brewster

Fighting Illini tight end Tim Brewster will be returning for Homecoming Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Unfortunately, he will be roaming the opposition sidelines as head coach of the Minnesota Gophers. Making waves in his second season, Brewster would love to beat his former team and become bowl eligible.

Minnesota fans had doubts after last season's futility, but the enthusiastic Brewster has combined an exciting spread offense with a refurbished defense to become competitive in 2008. The 5-1 Gophers' only loss so far was at Ohio State, so they will be confident and fired up to face the Illini.

The Minnesota offense revolves around redshirt sophomore quarterback Adam Weber. The 6'-3", 220 pounder is completing passes at a monstrous 67.8% with 124 pass completions in 183 attempts for 8 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions. He is third in the Big Ten in total offense with 247.2 yards per game. The mobile Weber has also scored two touchdowns running the ball.

Illinois' Co-Defensive Coordinator Curt Mallory knows Weber will be a severe test for his improving defense.

"He's a tremendous player. We knew last year going in to playing him he was a heck of a quarterback. He's just gotten better and better as the season's gone along."

Weber's go-to receiver is his 6'-2", 215 pound roommate Eric Decker. Catching 40% of Weber's passes, Decker leads the nation with 116 yards per game receiving. His 8.3 completions per game ranks third in the nation, with four of those catches going for touchdowns. Minnesota creates numerous ways for Decker to get open.

Illini middle linebacker knows his defense must focus on everything Decker does.

"He's a guy that's tough to cover. He was tough to cover last year."

Ralph Spry (5'-11", 175) and Ben Kuznia (6'-0", 186) also start at wide receiver. They are backed by freshmen Brodrick Smith (6'-3", 200), Da'Jon McKnight (6'-3", 200), and Brandon Green (6'-0", 180). Brewster's recruiting prowess has paid off early. Former Illinois high school product Jack Simmons (6'-4", 246) and Nick Tow-Arnett (6'-2", 249) share the tight end duties and compliment Decker well.

Injuries have forced the Gophers to rely on true freshmen at running back, but they have potential. DeLeon Eskridge (5'-11", 190 fr.) is the starter and has accumulated 366 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns, mostly in the last four games. He has some shake and bake as well as durability. Shady Salamon (5'-10", 185) is more of a slasher who runs with power. He is often called upon in goal line situations.

The Gophers have four redshirt freshmen who have started games on the offensive line so far this year. They may not be as experienced or large as some others, but they are the type of mobile linemen who are essential in the spread. Ryan Wynn (6'-5", 278) has started every game so far at right tackle.

Sophomore left tackle Dominic Alford (6'-3", 315) returns as a starter at left tackle after missing two games due to injury. D. J. Burris (6'-2", 293) or redshirt freshman Ryan Orton (6'-4", 284) man the left guard spot; Jeff Tow-Arnett (6'-2", 285) is at center; and redshirt freshman Chris Bunders (6'-3", 278) or experienced junior Ned Tavale (6'-2", 329) toil at right guard.

Brewster brought in former Duke head coach Ted Roof to shore up the defense, and he has his charges bouncing around with renewed enthusiasm and aggressiveness. And Minnesota has brought in four junior college athletes to provide more speed and athleticism.

Defensive tackle Garrett Brown (6'-2", 303), linebacker Simoni Lawrence (6'-1", 205), cornerback Traye Simmons (5'-11", 175), and safety Tramaine Brock (5'-10", 194) are all starting and playing well. Brock leads the team in tackles with 35. And Simmons is 4th in the nation with an average of 1.83 passes defended per game.

Lee Campbell (6'-3", 256) played defensive end last year but returned to his more familiar middle linebacker spot this year and has excelled. His 32 tackles are second on the team, and his aggressiveness and enthusiam have served to stimulate his entire defense. He is the emotional leader of the group.

Senior defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg (6'-4", 256) is 28th nationally with 8 tackles for loss. He is joined on the d-line by defensive end Derrick Onwuachi (6'-5", 250), tackle Eric Small (6'-2", 301), and Brown. Either Deon Hightower (6'-3", 226) or Steve Davis (6'-1", 226) will start at linebacker beside Campbell and Lawrence.

Simmons and Brock lead a secondary that includes safety Kyle Theret (5'-10", 185) and cornerback Marcus Sherels (5'-11", 166). Sherels was injured last week, so he may be replaced by Ryan Collado. Sherels was their regular punt returner, so it is possible freshman kick returner Troy Stoudemire (5'-10", 185) will add punt returns to his duties.

Placekicker Joel Monroe (5'-11", 195) was named Co-Big Ten Special Teams Player of the week after kicking three field goals to defeat Indiana last Saturday. And senior punter Justin Kucek is also a standout.

Minnesota is still in a developmental phase, but they are improving rapidly. Anyone who takes them lightly will suffer the consequences.

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