MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -No, the Gophers haven't been asked to carry footballs with them to class this week. They're not cuddling up next to the pigskins at night. But they've been sternly warned to start taking better care of the ball.
``If we just value the football and take care of the ball like we know we should, we know exactly where we could be at this point,'' coach Tim Brewster said. ``We could very easily be a 4-0 football team. Obviously we're not.''
With 16 turnovers and only four forced by the defense through four games, Minnesota ranks last in turnover margin out of 119 teams in the NCAA's top tier. The Gophers have allowed more yards passing - more than 407 per game - than any other team, but their turnover problem has been equally responsible for this 1-3 start to the season.
Last year, Minnesota committed only 14 turnovers and led the nation with a plus-18 margin.
``You have to consciously value the football,'' quarterback Adam Weber said. ``That's the first thing you learn when you play football ... to protect the football and how to hold it and everything. It's been a big emphasis for us this year.''
Weber has thrown eight interceptions, but he lost a fumble in last week's 45-31 loss to Purdue, too.
``I'm going to put the same demands on him as I do the running backs. We've got to have ball security,'' Brewster said Tuesday, noting that he expressed his disappointment with Weber's turnovers in a pointed discussion with the redshirt freshman after Saturday's game.
Brewster was so upset with co-captain Amir Pinnix that the senior didn't touch the ball again after a second-quarter fumble at the Purdue 14-yard line. Pinnix lost one at the goal line the week before in the loss at Florida Atlantic.
``When he makes critical mistakes he's really focusing on that mistake,'' freshman teammate Duane Bennett said. ``As a group of running backs, we're trying to bring his spirits back up, because he's the leader of the group. He's a senior, so we try to keep him focused because we still have a game at hand to win.''
e, which ranks seventh in the country with an average of 57.5 yards rushing allowed per game.
``We're looking at just who gives us the best chance to win, whether or not on Saturday night it's Amir,'' Brewster said, adding that he would pick a starter later in the week. ``It's a tremendous situation for us to have three guys ... who can all help us in a big, big way.''
Bennett is from the St. Louis area, just like Laurence Maroney - who starred in the backfield for the Gophers from 2003-05. On his recruiting visit, Maroney encouraged him to come to Minnesota - enough that Bennett maintained his commitment after Brewster replaced the fired Glen Mason.
He's even wearing No. 22, just like Maroney. And Saturday's performance gave him plenty of confidence.
``Now I really have a shot to become a great back in the Big Ten,'' he said.
Notes: Freshman D.J. Burris will return as the starting RG this week after missing the last game due to a leg injury. ... On defense, Deon Hightower will start for Steve Davis at the strong-side LB spot because Davis has a sore foot. Freshman CB Ryan Collado lost his spot on the first team to original starter Desi Steib.

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