Pass rush helps dislodge the Jug

Minnesota’s defensive line sacked Michigan quarterback Chad Henne three times.

by David McCoy

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It was no surprise to see Minnesota’s football team have potency in its backfield.

It was a surprise to see it have success in Michigan’s.

After allowing Penn State to dominate the line of scrimmage in its 44-14 win over the Gophers Oct. 1, Minnesota’s defensive line looked the best it has all season against the Wolverines.

The Gophers registered a season-high three sacks, had seven tackles for loss and held the Wolverines to just 94 yards rushing – both Big Ten season-highs for Minnesota – in its 23-20 win over Michigan Saturday.

“Every week, we feel like we have to get pressure on the quarterback, especially when we lose a few guys,” defensive tackle Mark Losli said. “We’ve got to do our job the best we can. We had one-on-one blocks, so we should be at least able to get some pressure.”

Despite the gaudy numbers, the stat sheet still didn’t quite do Minnesota’s defensive line justice.

The Gophers harassed quarterback Chad Henne all day, forcing him out of the pocket, limiting his time to throw and forcing him to throw away several passes.

Minnesota was also stout against the run, allowing only 2.8 yards per carry to the Wolverines – in stark contrast to the 364 yards on the ground surrendered to the Nittany Lions.

“We just came out with more intensity this game,” defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery said. “What we did last week was unacceptable, so we just knew we had to get better. These guys had to find it within themselves to get better, so that’s what it was.”

The line kept points off the board even when other parts of the injury-riddled defense struggled.

A pass interference penalty by cornerback Jamal Harris gave the Wolverines a first down on the Gophers’ 32-yard line.

But with Michigan facing third and nine on the Minnesota 31, true freshman defensive end Steve Davis sacked Henne for an 8-yard loss which forced the Wolverines to punt.

In fact, all three Gophers’ sacks came on third down and forced punts. Davis recorded his fifth sack of the season on the last play of the third quarter and Montgomery had a sack in the second quarter.

“Steve Davis is going to be an awfully good football player,” coach Glen Mason said. “I’ve been saying that. He’s undersized, really undersized against Michigan’s line, I can tell you that. But he’s got great heart, he’s a football player.”

Despite weighing in at just 230 pounds, Davis dominated 311-pound tackle Rueben Riley.

It was similar across the board. Adding insult to injury, Minnesota’s line was grossly out-weighed by Michigan’s offensive line, but still outplayed it. The Gophers averaged just 275 pounds, compared with the average Michigan offensive lineman at 316.

As far as other numbers go, Mason said the scoreboard was deceiving when it came to demonstrating how well his defense played.

“You take out the kickoff return – which is not the defense,” Mason said, “And the bad field position on Maroney’s fumble, and they were pretty impressive.”

For a unit which has struggled throughout the Mason era to find an identity, Montgomery said Saturday’s solid performance hopefully turned a corner.

“Last year, when we lost to Michigan, our season seemed to go downhill,” he said. “When we lost to Penn State, we were pretty sure people were thinking the season was going to go downhill again. But we were able to come back out this week and pick it up and have a great game. It does a lot for our confidence.”