Gophers’ three wins thanks to sturdy defense

by Michael Dougherty

Nobody ever said scheduling patsies didn’t have its advantages. While Ohio, UL-Monroe and Illinois State aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts, they combined to give the Gophers some lofty early season defensive rankings.
Minnesota (3-0) is first in total yards allowed (174 yards per game), points allowed per game (4.7), pass defense (65 yards per game) and opponents first downs allowed (30).
Despite some solid play from his strong defense, Gophers coach Glen Mason said he is still concerned.
“I worry about if we’re getting lulled to sleep on defense a little bit, because we’ve been playing awfully solid defense,” he said.
Rack attack
In a blowout like Saturday’s game, searching for something special to jump out is sometimes a tedious duty. Consequently, long-snapper Derek Rackley and his 44-yard reception were grabbing the most attention after the game.
Mason usually begins his postgame news conferences with a general statement before opening up to questions from the media. When Mason finished his statement and asked for questions, the first inquiry was not about quarterback Billy Cockerham and his career day or about his team’s 3-0 start. No, the first question was about Rackley and his first career reception.
Rackley graduated last year and has a job in the sales department at General Mills in Minnetonka. Mason said Rackley talked to him this summer about coming back to the team because he had one year of eligibility left and Rackley agreed it was a good idea.
After registering for graduate classes and paying for the tuition out of his own pocket, the long snapper who Mason said is “the best he has ever seen,” was back with the Gophers.
“Rackley is a heckuva kid,” Mason said. “Besides being a long snapper, and I’ve never seen anybody do it better, he’s big, he’s smart and he’s fast.”
Although Rackley is now a suit-and-tie guy during the week, he said playing Big Ten football is no big deal to the people he works with.
“It’s pretty low-key,” Rackley said of life at the office. “They all know that I’ve got a job to do, and this is just like any other extra-curricular activity. Whether it was PTA or their kids playing peewee football — that’s how we all treat it.”
Sack attack
With junior defensive end Karon Riley’s two sacks and junior linebacker Ben Mezera’s one, the Gophers lead the Big Ten with 14 sacks.
In the two years before Mason came to Minnesota (1995-96), the team had 12 and eight sacks, respectively. But in 1997 the Gophers set a team record with 41, and followed that up with 38 — their second-best total.
Individually, Mezera’s sack Saturday moved him into third place on the school’s career list. Strong safety Tyrone Carter and defensive tackle John Schlecht are each tied for seventh place with nine each.
The Great Outdoors
The paid attendance for Saturday’s game was 33,726, while neutral observers estimated the crowd to be under 30,000.
The total paid attendance for the three nonconference games was 107,415, an average of 35,805. Comparatively, Michigan set a new NCAA attendance record on Sept. 4 when it drew 111,523 for the Wolverines 26-22 win against Notre Dame.
Must be the outdoor stadium and the real grass.

ù Linebacker Curtese Poole returned to game action against Illinois State. Poole had been sidelined with a knee injury for most of fall practice before returning to limited action last week. He should be ready to go for the Big Ten opener on Oct. 2 at Northwestern.
Michael Dougherty covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]