BY JIMMY GILLIGAN | The Statesman The University of Minnesota Duluth football team played the 42nd annual maroon-white spring scrimmage this past weekend, the culmination of two weeks of practice in March and April.
Even though it’s just a spring intrasquad scrimmage, the 1,011 fans that braved the fall-like temperatures got a glimpse at what could be a tweaked offensive philosophy for the Bulldogs next season.
While both the defensive and special teams units weren’t totally live (quarterbacks could not get hit, turnovers were dead balls and kickoffs featured just two returners and the kicker), the offense was able to give Bulldog fans the clearest glimpse at the upcoming season.
Perhaps the first play of the game—a 37 yard pass from Drew Bauer to Nate Ricci—is an indication of an offense that will focus more on the air attack this fall.
Without a clear starting running back, and with four of UMD’s top five wideouts returning this season, the Bulldog offense may use a more balanced attack than last season.
Only one of UMD’s top three running backs from last season, Darren Walker, will play this season.
And for comparison, UMD ran the ball a combined 42 times and made 38 passing attempts in the scrimmage, though this balance was likely a result of wanting to spread the ball around.
With a never-ending line of All-American running backs, the Bulldogs have been a run-first team for a number of years. With former backfield talents such as Isaac Odim, Logan Lauters and Austin Sikorski, a run-first mentality is a no-brainer.
For the first time in a long time, UMD doesn’t have a clear No. 1 running back—at least at this point in the year.
Additionally, with Bauer missing the last three games of the 2015 season due to injury, first year offensive coordinator Noah Pauley, who himself was a UMD wide receiver from 2007-2010, may employ Bauer’s arm more than his legs.
It should be noted, however, that Bauer was his typically dominant self in the scrimmage. He led the maroon team on a game winning drive that was completed with a well-placed 27-yard touchdown pass to James Conner.
While there’s a question mark in UMD’s backfield at this point, they have a number of strong candidates.
Incoming freshman Victor James, listed at 5’11” and 230 pounds, broke for a 68-yard touchdown run in the game and averaged 14 yards per carryin the game. UMD will likely redshirt the incoming freshman.
The Bulldogs could also use proven talent at running back. Beau Bofferding, a utility back who led the team in receiving yards next season, could also see more time as a pure running back, as he did in the spring game, with five carries.
If anything, the spring game was an indication that there will likely be a platoon of backs who get chances to prove themselves next fall, until one stands out from the rest.
Being that it was their first game-like experience of the year, the starters were mixed up on both sides and some players were playing for both teams, it’s important to not read too far into the spring game.
As the Bulldog offense looks at this point, they may deviate from the proven formula next season and take to the air with more frequency.