Defense has Gophers more competitive
Kyle Theret
Kyle Theret

Posted Sep 23, 2008


Last year, the Gophers defense struggled to keep even non-conference opponents from gaining huge yardage and point advantages. This year, the Minnesota defense is giving them a better chance to compete and actually helping win games.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the Gophers’ surprising 4-0 start has been the play of the defense. Never was that more evident than during the 37-3 victory over Florida Atlantic.

Last year against the Owls, Minnesota’s defense was gashed for 42 points and nearly 600 yards. This time, against much of the same personnel, the Gophers held FAU out of the end zone and limited the offense to just 276 yards.

“We still remember last year,” safety Kyle Theret said. “Last year, we weren’t making these plays. So it feels good.”

Theret had one of four interceptions by the defense, freshman DeLeon Eskridge added 78 yards and two more scores for a Gophers team that enters Big Ten play 4-0 for the first time in three years.

The competition level is about to go up dramatically, with a trip to Ohio State on Sept. 27. But for now, the Gophers enjoy erasing memories of a dreadful one-win season last year.

“You try to forget about last year, but you always remember it,” defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg said. “You never want that feeling again. This year we’re attacking in everything we do.”

NOTES

  • Minnesota has shut out three of its four opponents in the first quarter and outscored teams 24-6 in the opening period.

  • Traye Simmons intercepted another pass, his second straight week with a pick. They are the only two interceptions of his career.

  • C Jeff Tow-Arnett played nearly the entire game on a bad right knee. He wasn’t expected back so quickly, but returned to practice less than two weeks after injuring the knee against Bowling Green. He replaced redshirt freshman Trey Davis, who left in the first half with an injured hand and did not return.

  • The offensive line remains in disarray. Junior Jason Meinke replaced sophomore Dominic Alford (ankle) at left tackle, redshirt freshman Chris Bunders started again at right guard in place of Ned Tavale (ankle). C.J. Burris played some left guard and center.

    GAME BALL GOES TO: The defense — Hard to single out one player on a unit that intercepted four passes and sacked FAU quarterback Rusty Smith for the first time this year. The Gophers’ turnaround defensively has been a key to the season.

    KEEP AN EYE ON: RB DeLeon Eskridge — In his first start, the freshman rushed for 78 yards and two scores, while adding six catches for 61 yards.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: “We were outplayed by a team that was on a mission to re-establish themselves as a big-time football team. They are certainly going in the right direction. We were no match in any regard.” — FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger

    LOOKING GOOD: The defense has at least three interceptions in consecutive games for the first time since picking off five passes in back-to-back weeks against Wisconsin and Illinois on Oct. 23 and Nov. 6, 1993.

    Not only are the Gophers forcing turnovers, but they’re also cashing in. Minnesota scored 21 points off turnovers, and now has scored 66 points off turnovers this season after totaling just 41 all of last year.

    Simoni Lawrence’s fourth-quarter 50-yard interception return for a touchdown was the team’s first since Dom Barber did it against Indiana on Nov. 4, 2006.

    STILL NEEDS WORK: A couple of streaks ended for sophomore quarterback Adam Weber and senior kicker Joel Monroe. Weber’s interception was his first in 96 passes; Monroe’s missed extra point was his first in 58 career attempts.

    The Gophers had some untimely penalties that nullified big plays. A 16-yard catch by DeLeon Eskridge was negated by a clip, while an earlier third-down completion to Eric Decker was called back by a holding penalty. Both penalties cost the Gophers points.

    RECAP

    Minnesota 37, Florida Atlantic 3: Freshman DeLeon Eskridge rushed for 78 yards and two scores, the Gophers rushed for 206 yards as a team and the defense kept FAU out of the end zone to improve to 4-0 this year. Minnesota limited FAU to 276 total yards one season after the Owls scored 42 points and racked up nearly 600 yards of offense against the Gophers.



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