RB Laurence Maroney

2004 Statistics

Coach: Glen Mason
51-45, 8 years
2004 Record: 7-5
at Colorado State WON 34-16
at Michigan LOST 24-27
at Michigan State LOST 17-51
at Indiana LOST 21-30
at Wisconsin LOST 14-38
vs. Alabama WON 20-16

2004 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2005 Outlook

After the Music City Bowl win against Alabama, Mason wasn't voicing the optimism of a coach with potentially his best group coming back in his nine seasons at Minnesota. Mason has become used to having high hopes dashed each season as his program just can't seem to get to the top of the Big Ten. The Gophers have played in five bowl games in the past six seasons, erasing nine prior losing campaigns…but a late December bowl date seems to be the plateau on which Mason's team is trapped.

There are several trends working against the Gophers. Despite being the only Division I-A team in the state, Minnesota seems to recruit Ohio better than it does its own backyard. Chalk that up to a coaching staff that's experienced as much turnover as the employment rate at a local burger joint. Also, the Metrodome provides a rather non-collegiate, sterile game-day experience, and football expenditures are ranked last in the Big Ten (according to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press). Throw in almost no big-game luck the past few seasons (it's a different season if Minnesota holds on and beats Michigan, then hits that game-winning field goal to beat Iowa), and it adds up to a program proverbially stuck.

With the conference as deep as it's been the past few years (with the exception of Illinois and Indiana), this really isn't the year for the Gophers to turn the corner. That is especially due to the recent weak recruiting classes, which provide little raw material with which to "raise the bar".

A rough conference slate will only exacerbate the challenges for a marginally strong offensive team with a questionable defense and special teams. After a soft non-conference slate that should help some positions gel, Minnesota opens the Big Ten at home against Purdue, and then travels to Penn State and Michigan. This year's collapse won't wait until late in the season, it is tentatively scheduled to arrive this early. This is a classic college team - they will beat a few they shouldn't lose to as they also lose to a few they should beat.

The result? Expect another middle-of-the-pack finish, which will result in another December bowl game. 2006, the last year of Mason's current contract, approaches. It will be a shame if even more rebuilding takes an extra year due to his exit and therefore another coaches' insertion. But unless the Gophers show consistency this time around, many facets of this team will be retooled before then.

Projected 2005 record: 7-4
QB - 3.5 DL - 4
RB - 4.5 LB - 3.5
WR - 4 DB - 2
OL - 4.5 ..

Passing: Bryan Cupito, 261-123-7, 2097 yds., 14 TD

Rushing: Laurence Maroney, 217 att., 1348 yds., 12 TD

Receiving: Jared Ellerson, 37 rec., 521 yds., 3 TD

Scoring: Laurence Maroney,12 TD, 72 pts.

Punting: None

Kicking: None

Tackles: Kyle McKenzie, 79 tot., 50 solo

Sacks: Anthony Montgomery, Mark Losli, 3 each

Interceptions: Trumaine Banks, 2 for 20 yds.

Kickoff Returns: Lawrence Maroney, 8 ret., 19.8 avg., 0 TD

Punt Returns: Logan Payne, 1 ret., 32.0 avg., 0 TD


C Greg Eslinger
OFFENSE: Rian Melander-OT, Brandon Harston-OG, Rhys Lloyd-K/P, Marion Barber-TB (NFL)
DEFENSE: Darrell Reid-DE, Dominique Sims-DLB, Ukee Dozier-CB, Justin Fraley-SS

Even with a great ground assault, Bryan Cupito and the passing game need to be more productive for this team to finally break through to the next level. Cupito completed just 47.1 percent of his passes last fall as a sophomore, a dismal stat that are mostly blamed on Cupito's inexperience, dropped balls and lack of creativity in passing schemes. With Cupito under center, the Gophers relied mostly on short passes and low-percentage fade routes up the sidelines, and they didn't get their talented RBs involved enough in the passing game. Expect more variety with a new receivers coach in Luke Tressel (nephew of Ohio State's Jim Tressel) and Mitch Browning taking over as sole offensive coordinator, and expect more production out of Cupito's targets with his top four back. But the bottom line is Cupito has to display more confidence as a passer for this offense to have the necessary balance to beat good defenses/teams. Backup Adam Ernst, a quicker option QB who was put into games to hand the ball off (he attempted fewer passes than RB Marion Barber III), doesn't have the arm needed to awaken the air attack.

Running Back
It's Laurence Maroney's time to shine. The big question is how the junior speedster (4.4-sec 40) will fare without the more powerful Barber to balance him out and give him rest. At the rate this team runs the ball (nearly 70 percent of the time in '04), Maroney could be in for a 2,000-yard season. But his 200-pound frame wouldn't withstand 400-plus carries, so enter quick soph Gary Russell (4.45 speed, no yards lost in '04) to assume a larger role. He will produce, too. At fullback, undersized Justin Valentine doesn't provide much power, though his blocking improved as the season progressed. Valentine led this group with four receptions, which should tell you how much these guys are looked at in pass situations. There's not a big power back here, but that shouldn't matter with another good O-line to open up wide lanes. Even if the passing game remains dreadful and defenses stuff the box, this team can still run marginally effectively, but that precludes any late-game comebacks from being realistic achievements.

After underachieving in '04, the WRs will have to perform at a higher level. There's plenty of big-play ability here, but basics such as route running and simply catching balls need to be fine-tuned. Jared Ellerson, a senior, has become the possession receiver, but he too often had stone hands in clutch situations. Talented soph Ernie Wheelwright is a tall, deep threat who has the look of a future early-round NFL draft pick, but he needs work on his routes and consistency (Gopher fans won't soon forget his two dropped TDs in the Music City Bowl). A 5-8, 4.34-40 burner, Jakari Wallace is a clutch receiver who always seems to find a way to get open underneath. Lack of developed depth is a concern (four-star recruit Paris Hamilton had but four catches in 10 games), but, on paper at least, this should be a capable group. The pressure is on Tressel to fulfill the potential here.

Tight End
One of Cupito's most consistent receivers was his TE, Matt Spaeth, who was third in receptions in his first year as a starter. At 6-6, 265, Spaeth is also a quality run blocker, which is vital in this offense. Former-prep QB Jarod Posthumus is rather similar in ability to Spaeth, with a keen academic mind of the game. Both have soft mitts and (with Spaeth's 4.8 speed) are a constant threat and distraction to LBs and safeties, so run-focused defenses will struggle to stop their impact.

Offensive Line
Maroney will have probably the best O-line in the Big Ten to run behind with three-fifths of last year's starting group back, including NC.net first team all-American Greg Eslinger (C) and second-teamer Mark Setterstrom (LG). Look for improving RT Joe Ainslie to move to Melander's vacated spot to solidify the blindside. Injuries allowed some returning backups to get experience, which will pay off this fall. This isn't the biggest line in the conference, but its execution and technique are unmatched. They go from inside to outside run-blocking assignments seamlessly. Expect something close to last year's numbers (nation's No. 5 rushing offense, only nine sacks allowed).

Cupito will be looked upon to do more than simply hand off the ball and get out of the way. He will have to be more accurate in his second year as a starter. The receivers should perform better, and the running game will continue to thrive behind a Heisman darkhorse in Maroney and a tough, mobile line. If Browning can find a way to achieve some balance, this will be the Big Ten's best offense. Don't expect that much improvement from the passing game, but expect enough for this team to increase its scoring output. Minnesota tallied a mere 34 points in the fourth-quarter - if the run isn't used to set up later-game passing success, expect more numbers here that just don't add up to as many wins as they should have with this much talent.


OG Mark Setterstrom


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Bryan Cupito-Jr (6-1, 195) Tony Mortenson-So (6-3, 200)
FB Justin Valentine-So (6-2, 215) Jason Lamers-Jr (6-0, 240)
TB Laurence Maroney-Jr (5-11, 205) Amir Pinnix-So (6-0, 195)
Gary Russell-So (5-11, 195)
WR Jared Ellerson-Sr (6-1, 200) Jakari Wallace-Sr (5-8, 170)
WR Ernie Wheelwright-So (6-5, 210) Micah Rucker-So (6-6, 210)
TE Matt Spaeth-Jr (6-6, 270) Jarod Posthumus-Sr (6-4, 255)
OT Joe Ainslie-Jr (6-7, 300) Steve Shidell-So (6-5, 285)
OG Mark Setterstrom-Sr (6-3, 295) Tommy Jacobs-So (6-3, 285)
C Greg Eslinger-Sr (6-3, 285) Tyson Swaggart-Jr (6-4, 285)
OG Mike Nicholson-Sr (6-5, 285) John Jakel-So (6-5, 280)
OT Tony Brinkhaus-So (6-4, 295) Matt DeGeest-Fr (6-5, 250)
K Jason Giannini-Fr (5-10, 180) Joel Monroe-Fr (6-0, 180)



Defensive Line
The line needs to return to 2003 form against the run and put more pressure on the QB to aid a beleaguered secondary. Expect more penetration up the middle, a certainty from DTs Anthony Montgomery and Mark Losili. Both are big, quick, experienced and will improve on their combined six sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-losses. The DEs retool a bit. Returning starter Mario Reese moved from LB and uses his strength, speed (4.7) and athleticism to secure a spot at rush end. He'll have to improve his sack numbers to be the force needed here. Reese beat out Eric Clark, another fast (4.8) lineman who is much bigger than Reese. The speed and size here will help against the run, but someone has to emerge as a serious pass rusher. Unproven depth means "team play", and not individual prowess, will make this crew its best.

This unit starts over, which is welcome after last year's senior-laden group underachieved. There's plenty of speed and lateral movement here. A new defensive coaching staff and two new starters will look to reestablish, but inexperience will be a limiting factor early. Athletic MLB Kyle McKenzie, the team's leading tackler and the brother of former-NFL end Keith McKenzie, will have to be more physical. Weakside backer Terrance Campbell moves back to the secondary, leaving plenty of new faces to duke it out for time. John Shevlin, a soph, is the favorite at drop backer and freshman Leland Jones has the early edge at the weakside spot. Fast (4.5) and physical, Shevlin won an award for best defensive scout team player in 2003. That's great for media guide filler, but these guys will have to bring some toughness to this unit while growing up in a hurry. Expect to see plenty of incoming freshman Alex Daniels, a four-star recruit who has to hit the weight room but should affect the mix well.

Defensive Back
Campbell's switch back to the secondary is an indication of how much sleep Mason is losing over this area. This is the most unsettled area heading into spring ball, an area that hurt this team repeatedly last fall (the pass defense was 109th in the country, and only Illinois and Northwestern were worse on third downs). Improved deep coverage cut down on big plays, but yards after the catch on underneath stuff killed this unit. Worse yet, the secondary graduated its only impact player in CB Ukee Dozier. Junior Trumaine Banks returns from a disappointing year to assume the top-cover corner role, and backup Jamal Harris should become a starter on the other side. Both of those guys entered last year inexperienced, so there's no excuse not to be better now. Campbell brings decent speed (4.6) and three years of starting experience to the strong safety spot. Talented junior Brandon Owens, another converted LB with 4.56 speed, should wrestle the free safety job from senior John Pawielski. Who's the ball-hawk, the potential playmaker? There might not be one, though there's plenty of speed and potential here for improvement. But, most likely, this unit will struggle again, especially with an anemic pass rush.

Departing defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, who was named head coach at East Carolina, left the 75th-ranked (total) defense before he could be held responsible for this current situation. Ironically, for a team that runs the ball so well, the Gophers' opponents held the ball an average of 2:14 longer than UM, and the defense's consistent inability to stop the run (allowed 3.7yds per run) in clutch situations cost them wins (see Michigan). There is youth and uncertainty everywhere, especially in the back, which will be a blessing in disguise - this defense needs an injection of some swagger. New coordinator David Lockwood will keep the play in front of the speedy inexperience so as to funnel the action into containable areas. This should pay off on wide plays, but the test is when teams go straight at the Gophers. The DTs, safeties, and McKenzie, therefore, become critical elements, and with these being the strongest links, fans can believe results will improve.


LB Kyle McKenzie


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Eric Clark-Jr (6-4, 265) William VanDeSteeg-Fr (6-4, 235)
NT Anthony Montgomery-Sr (6-5, 305) Todd Meisel-So (6-4, 255)
DT Mark Losli-Sr (6-6, 290) Neel Allen-So (6-3, 285)
DE Keith Lipka-Sr (6-3, 260) Maurice Buchanan-Jr (6-3, 255)
WLB John Shevlin-So (6-1, 220) Mark Mullaney-So (6-0, 210)
MLB Mike Sherels-So (6-0, 230) Leland Jones-Fr (6-2, 215)
DLB Kyle McKenzie-Sr (6-1, 235) Mario Reese-Jr (6-3, 230)
CB Trumaine Banks-Jr (5-10, 185) Brody Grandas-Fr (5-11, 185)
CB Jamal Harris-So (6-0, 180) Desi Steib-So (6-1, 185)
SS Brandon Owens-Jr (6-2, 210) Terrance Campbell-Sr (6-2, 205)
FS John Pawielski-Sr (5-11, 200) Quentin White-Sr (6-0, 200)
P Justin Kucek-Fr (6-0, 180) ..




The upside for junior Rhys Lloyd had better show up this fall. After a promising freshman year, Lloyd missed four extra points and six of his 18 field goals, including a 31-yarder in the Music City Bowl and a potential game-winner against Iowa. He was 10th in the Big Ten in punting, though both coverage units improved (a result of the overall speed of this team). That improvement will not likely continue for a defense that needs all the help it can get. Don't be surprised if Lloyd loses one or both of his jobs to sophs Jason Giannini (K) and Justin Kucek (P).

Return Game
This area proved disappointing despite having Barber handling both punts and kicks. The team sank to eighth in the Big Ten in kicks, and 10th in punts. Expect the more explosive Maroney to be used here again, as he was in 2003 when these units were among the nation's top 10. Russell also showed promise on kicks and should see an increased role, especially if Maroney needs a break.