Spring game recap: Minnesota

Spring practice in the Big Ten is officially over.

The final two spring games of the year took place on Saturday, and we're here to recap both. Let's start with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, where the Maroon team beat the Gold 24-17 before an estimated crowd of 7,700. You can find coverage of the game here, here and here.

Star of the game: Quarterback Philip Nelson finished 13-of-17 for 179 yards and a touchdown, and was 10-for-10 in the first half. He also ran for 32 yards.

How it went down: A big goal for Minnesota this offseason was to improve a passing game that struggled to generate much down the stretch last season. Though it as just a spring game, Saturday's results had to be encouraging to head coach Jerry Kill.

First, there was returning starter Nelson putting together a perfect (at least in terms of completions) first half. Redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner also impressed, going 9-for-15 for 112 yards and tossing two touchdown passes to start the second half. There was competition between the two, and there was a competent passing game on display. Nelson hit Derrick Engel with a pretty 39-yard strike to open the fourth quarter and set up the winning score.

"It was just really great to get out here in a game-like atmosphere and being able to have more consecutive drives and being able to really move the ball down the field like a real-life game," Nelson said. "That helps build some momentum."

While Kill said it remains Nelson's job to lose, Leidner will continue to push him throughout the summer and fall camp.

"Competition is always going to be a competition," Kill said. "I've been that way everywhere I've been. Somebody has to take Philip's job. Right now it's his job. Somebody has to take it. That's part of how you play."

Engel finished with five catches for 74 yards, and Jamel Harbison -- who missed most of last season with an ACL tear -- grabbed five passes for 52 yards and a score. Rodrick Williams led all rushers with 49 yards, including a 29-yarder early, and Donnell Kirkwood ran for two short touchdowns.

The defense was hard to judge on a day when four of its best starters -- defensive linemen Ra'Shede Hageman and Michael Amaefula and defensive backs Brock Vereen and Derrick Wells -- were held out for precautionary purposes. Thieren Cockran registered a pair of sacks, and promising junior college transfer Damien Wilson recovered a fumble.

All in all, it was a positive day for the Gophers, and a fun one for the fans who enjoyed the 70-degree temperatures and sunny skies.

"We've had a great spring," Kill told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I still think we've got to mentally and physically develop some toughness, and I think we're doing that."