Filling defensive gaps: Jacob Huff steps in

Jacob Huff led the team with eight tackles against Maryland.

Jacob Huff and Antoine Winfield Jr. celebrate after a touchdown on Saturday, Sept. 15 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Courtney Deutz

Jacob Huff and Antoine Winfield Jr. celebrate after a touchdown on Saturday, Sept. 15 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Jack Warrick

The news of a season-ending injury, again for safety Antoine Winfield Jr. sent shockwaves throughout the Gophers team. One of the players that was most affected is the one who started alongside him: Jacob Huff.

Huff, a senior, has started every game this season after working his way up the depth chart over the last three years with the Gophers. He now faces the challenge of being the No. 1 safety, with freshman Jordan Howden filling in for the injured Winfield.

“Jacob Huff is really important for us back there,” head coach P.J. Fleck said. “He’s the guy in the secondary who’s played a ton of football. Him and Antonio Shenault.”

Howden filled in for Winfield Jr. after he exited the Maryland game, there are now two freshmen starting in the backfield— the other being Terell Smith at cornerback.

“[Huff’s] done an unbelievable job,” linebacker Thomas Barber said. “Our second team is younger, but Jacob’s done a great job of building their confidence, because that’s really what we want.”

Huff had a breakout year last year as a junior when he recorded the most interceptions on the team with three. He tallied 65 total tackles a year after recording six as a sophomore. 

Huff saw an increased role after Winfield left the game, tallying a team-leading eight tackles. 

“He’s got to assume even more of a leadership role,” defensive coordinator Robb Smith said. “He’s got to get us right. He’s got to make all the right calls, all the correct calls, and get us in a proper position to be successful.”

Winfield had 16 tackles through the first three games and an interception in the end zone to help seal the victory in the game against Fresno State. He was known as an explosive player on special teams, earning Big Ten special teams player of the week honors after a 75-yard punt return where he broke multiple tackles to score a touchdown against New Mexico State.

Winfield suffered a season-ending foot injury against Maryland and will apply for an extra year of eligibility. He suffered a season-ending injury against Maryland last year as well.

“It’s tough to replace him, he’s a talented kid,” Shenault said. “It’s not easy, but it’s a ‘next man up’ mentality, and we’re really excited, you know, we had two weeks to prepare. We got some guys that can do some special things back there.”

Huff, Shenault and the rest of Minnesota (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) will play the homecoming game on Saturday against Iowa (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten). Both teams are coming off their first losses, and each has had a bye week to prepare for Saturday.

Minnesota has lost its last three match ups with Iowa.

“Yes it is a rivalry, but still you got to take it as its a next game, next opportunity,” Barber said.