MINNEAPOLIS — For the first half of Saturday’s game between Minnesota and San Jose State, Spartans quarterback David Fales played like the first-round draft pick the Gophers hyped him up to be.
Then Minnesota did something to change that.
Fales picked apart the Gophers’ offense in the first half, completing 12-of-16 passes for 294 yards and a pair of touchdowns. After a number of adjustments by Minnesota’s defense, though, Fales was a relative non-factor in the second half. He still finished the game 22-for-35 for 439 yards and three scores, but Minnesota limited the damage San Jose State’s senior did in the second half of the Gophers’ 43-24 victory.
“We came in and we split staffs up in our locker room,” Kill said of the halftime adjustments. “Everybody visited. Nobody panicked. We had to get (Fales) out of a rhythm. I think the mindset — we have a young football team and a young secondary — is get them to believe that, hey, the kid’s a good player, there’s no question about that, but we have to step it up.”
The Gophers set the tone early in the second half when linebacker Aaron Hill intercepted a deflected Fales pass and gave Minnesota the ball at the Spartans 12-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Mitch Leidner scored to put the Gophers up 26-17.
Fales was never quite the same after that interception.
“I think it definitely was a turning point,” Hill said. “I think the coaches made a good adjustment at halftime. They told me to cheat to the boundary a little bit because that’s a high-percentage pass, and I did. Jeremy Baltazar did a good job to tip the ball up, and I just had to go make a play. … I think that was definitely the momentum-shifter for the game.”
Minnesota didn’t get much pressure on Fales in the first half, allowing the Spartans senior all kinds of time to throw. Of his 12 first-half completions, four of them went to Chandler Jones for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
While the Gophers never did sack Fales on Saturday, they made things tougher for him after halftime. He completed 10 passes for 145 yards, but was kept on the sideline for a good chunk of the second half. Minnesota’s running game helped the Gophers dominate the time of possession battle by a 41:02-18:58 margin.
Fales was a spectator for far too long to help lead the Spartans’ comeback.
“They are Midwest, Big Ten football,” said San Jose State coach Ron Caragher. “It is about the power run game for four yards and eat up the clock. … Give credit to them. They are a solid team. I just wish we would have been more competitive in the second half.”
Fales earned the respect of the Gophers by throwing for 439 yards and making completions with pinpoint accuracy. He’ll surely be drafted this April, and if you ask Minnesota’s players, they believe he’s a first-round pick.
Despite everything Fales did to try and keep his team in the game, the Gophers’ defense was a step ahead, especially after halftime.
“Coach just told us to start being more aggressive,” linebacker De’Vondre Campbell said of the message in the locker room at the half. “If we have somebody (in man coverage), don’t just sit back and wait. That was really the biggest adjustment, just being more aggressive.”
Cobb tops century mark: Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner will grab most of the headlines after his four-touchdown performance in Saturday’s win. But running back David Cobb’s efforts certainly should not go unnoticed.
Cobb ran for 125 yards on 25 carries and also found the end zone twice as he was a big part of Minnesota’s ground game that ate up the clock and moved the chains in the second half. Both of Cobb’s scores came from one yard out, but he picked up big chunks of yardage throughout the game. That included a game-high 35-yard run that helped set up a Leidner touchdown run.
Not bad for a guy who started the year as the third-string running back and started Saturday’s game as the No. 2 option in the backfield behind Rodrick Williams.
“I’m real proud of David,” Kill said. “I’ve been tough on David. … I think he came in with a great attitude during camp. Success helps everybody when you have a little success.”
Cobb entered Saturday’s game with 28 carries on the season for 207 yards and three touchdowns. As a sophomore last year he had just one carry and fell out of favor on offense.
With another strong performance Saturday against San Jose State, it’s safe to guess Cobb may likely be getting more carries for as long as Donnell Kirkwood is out. Even when Kirkwood does return from an ankle injury — which could be next week against Iowa — Cobb has shown that he can be a complementary back for the Gophers.
Campbell impresses Kill: It was easy to spot linebacker De’Vondre Campbell during Saturday’s game, as the junior college transfer was seemingly all over the field during Minnesota’s win.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound redshirt sophomore finished with six tackles, tied for the team lead. He also had a tackle for loss and forced a Spartans fumble late in the first quarter that the Gophers recovered.
After the game, Kill couldn’t help but gush about Campbell, who came to Minnesota after spending his freshman year at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
“He’s a good-looking athlete, isn’t he,” Kill said. “He’s fun to watch. In the piece to the puzzle, you’ve got to get four or five difference makers on each side of the ball, just like the NFL does. I believe De’Vondre will develop into one of those guys that’s a difference maker.”
Saturday marked Campbell’s first start at linebacker with the Gophers. He now has 19 tackles in four games and certainly was a difference maker in Minnesota’s win against the Spartans.
“I basically tried to prepare the same way I usually do, watch film, study my opponent,” Campbell said of making his first start. “Really, I didn’t change anything. I prepared the same way that I usually do.”