Opponents run circles around U

by Jeff Sherry

Tim Rose, the new defensive coordinator for the Gophers football team, has been with Minnesota for three games. All three were wins.
This, of course, has Rose excited. But hardly carried away.
“You can’t be lulled to sleep by your success,” he said Monday. “Just like you can’t panic when you fail.”
Rose and the Gophers defense have dealt with both scenarios already this season. The defense, especially the secondary, has stepped up and made plays at crucial times for Minnesota this year. Yet the unit has also been inconsistent, and at times, overpowered — especially against the run.
Entering Saturday’s game at Purdue, no area presents a bigger concern for Minnesota than its rushing defense. The Gophers have given up 221 rushing yards per game, the worst average in the conference. And with their Big Ten schedule just beginning, the competition will get tougher.
“Our run defense simply must get better,” Gophers coach Jim Wacker said. “You don’t want to go into the Big Ten and not be able to stop them from running the football. You won’t get very far.”
Several factors have contributed to Minnesota’s early difficulties against the run, the first of which surfaced in the first half of the Ball State game. Rose said the defense underestimated Ball State, and wasn’t emotionally prepared to play. The Gophers buckled down in the second half, but the Cardinals had already gained most of their 234 rushing yards.
Minnesota’s trouble against Syracuse (301 yards rushing) came from other factors. In that game, Rose designed his defense to be strong on the outside third of the field, thus minimizing the option play of elusive quarterback Donovan McNabb. Syracuse countered, however, by rushing up the middle.
Fatigue and lack of size hurt the Gophers late. Each of Syracuse’s offensive linemen weighed about 65 pounds more than Minnesota’s front seven defensemen. The Orangemen also had possession of the ball nearly three times more than the Gophers by the end of the third quarter.
“Two things happened — we were tired and they were pretty good,” Rose said. “That’s when those 65 pounds make a big difference.”
Despite its difficulties, Minnesota rose up in both games to make big defensive stands at the finish. The team used last week’s bye to hold a “mini-spring practice.” Rather than just concentrating on its opponent, Minnesota studied its own breakdowns and moved some players around.
As a result, redshirt freshman Luke Braaten will get his first start at outside linebacker Saturday. Wacker said they made the move to get more physical play against the run. Lamanzer Williams, who started the first three games and outweighs Braaten by nearly 30 pounds, will back him up.
Minnesota will also get a boost from the return of a healthy Rufus Smith at inside linebacker. Smith, who was projected as a starter before injuring his right ankle on the first day of practice, played against Syracuse but not at full strength. He will split time with senior Ben Langford.
Otherwise, Minnesota will make no more than the usual amount of adjustments for Purdue. Rose said the defense needs to play a more complete game and focus on what it does — not what the Boilermakers do.
If all goes according to plan, Rose’s future warnings will deal solely with handling success.
“We can’t change who we are,” Rose said. “What we’re trying to do is assess things and make some changes where we can, yet not panic. We know we can’t be as porous as we’ve been. We know we have to get better. And I think we will.”