Gophers defense once again unprepared

Luke Middendorf

The ultimate combination in football is speed and power, two abilities that all athletes strive for but few are able to attain.

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Michigan
what: Football
when: 2:30 p.m., Saturday
where: Ann Arbor, Mich.

One football player that seems to have been gifted with both is North Dakota State running back Tyler Roehl.

Roehl, a 5-foot-10-inch, 228-pound junior, displayed the ability against Minnesota on Saturday to first run a guy over and then turn on the jets to run by the next.

In the Gophers’ worst game of the season at defending the rush, Roehl exploited their weakness for a robust 266 yards on the ground on just 22 carries.

The Bison’s gifted runner averaged 12 yards per carry, and time after time Minnesota was unable to find a solution for his play-making ability.

When asked about why his team failed in stopping the run, Gophers’ head coach Tim Brewster said, “I wish I knew. We just weren’t good enough. They were better then we were up front. They just did a better job of executing the running game than we did of stopping it.”

As a team, NDSU rattled off a season-high 394 yards on the ground on 49 carries compared to just 125 yards on 30 carries for Minnesota.

The Bison have averaged 217.5 yards rushing prior to Saturday’s thrashing of the Gophers; however, all but one of their previous six games have been against opponents in the Football Championship Subdivision, the former Division 1-AA.

That means that Minnesota’s defense gave up more rushing yards against NDSU than five other teams in a lower division.

“It’s been an issue for us all season long, as everybody knows. We have not tackled as well as we need to tackle,” Brewster said.

The Gophers gave up 585 total yards to the Bison on Saturday, the second most they have given up to any team this season. The only team that gained more was Northwestern, who put up 589 total yards last week in Evanston, Ill.

Although Brewster and his players claim that they did not overlook Roehl and the Bison’s rushing attack, it appeared that they did by giving up 101 yards to the running back in the first quarter alone.

At the half, Roehl was averaging 22.2 yards per carry by way of his nine rushes for an astounding 202 yards.

“We thought he was going to be more of a power back,” senior strong safety Dominique Barber said of Roehl. “But watching film we knew he was a burner too. He came out and had some very nice runs, so hats go off to North Dakota State.”

Roehl stormed onto the scene on NDSU’s first offensive possession, which was big for the Bison because the Gophers had just scored on their first try.

On third-and-seven, Roehl busted through the Minnesota line and showed his explosive speed by bursting 77 yards into the end zone to tie the game at 7-7.

The impressive part about the long run was how the 228- pound Roehl was able to break away from the much smaller Gophers’ secondary, a group whose average weight hovers around the 185- to 210-pound range.

This past summer, Roehl made the transition from fullback to running back, a position that his coach said he was very confident he would succeed in.

“A lot of people battered whether we should move him from fullback to tailback, they didn’t think he had the speed but he certainly showed that he did today,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said of Roehl. “He is a physical player. He was a weapon from the start; he was a weapon until the end.”

A humble Roehl credited his offensive line for his impressive day at the Metrodome and also his success all year, as he eclipsed the 1,000-rushing-yard mark on Saturday with a total of 1,013 on the year.

“It all started up front with the offensive line,” Roehl said. “They have been great all year. I can’t say anything else about them. Ö Everyone has been blocking.”

Roehl was not alone in having rushing success on Saturday, as his teammate Pat Paschall also picked up 90 yards on the ground on just 12 carries.

Paschall’s abilities complimented the running style of Roehl, as the 192-pound back used more shifty moves and pure quickness to gain his yards.

“I think the tandem of No. 40 (Roehl) and No. 2 (Paschall) is a nice combination,” Brewster said. “One really slams the ball at you and the other one has got a little shake.”

After the game, the Gophers’ defensive players looked shocked and appalled at the outcome of their effort, and disappointment was apparently a mutual feeling shared by all.

“Basically today, he had his way,” a noticeably frustrated junior linebacker Steve Davis said about Roehl. “We made a couple of mistakes and he broke for long runs. It was a battle on our part, but you’ve got to give the honor to them for coming in here and doing what they had to do.”