Defense continues to give up big plays

by Tyler Rushmeyer

Facing the high-powered offense of Michigan Saturday, Minnesota’s defense fell victim to a familiar habit – giving up back-breaking deep passes.

The Gophers defense allowed big pass plays that helped the Wolverines jump out to an early advantage in what would become a winnable game for Minnesota.

With the offense struggling to put points on the board, Minnesota’s defense managed to keep the game within reach, making adjustments to hold the Wolverines to seven second-half points. But the early hole it had dug itself was too much for the offense to recover.

Coach Glen Mason was pleased with the team’s effort, but said there needs to be improvement in the defensive secondary, specifically on third downs.

“Lets face it – you get them in that situation, you should be able to get off the field or at least keep them in the area where they have to throw it underneath,” he said. “It’s something that can be fixed – but that hurts.”

Minnesota’s defense kept the game within striking distance, despite Michigan racking up over 500 yards, thanks to a strong second half.

Junior safety Dominic Jones said he was frustrated with the defense missing big opportunities early.

“The focus was on the running game coming in, but unfortunately it opened up the passing game,” he said. “I can think of at least two big plays in the first half – key opportunities – that we didn’t take advantage of.”

Junior quarterback Chad Henne, who finished 17-of-24 for 284 yards, tore through the Gophers’ secondary in

the first half, completing 10 of 12 passes, including touchdown passes of 16, 37, and 41 yards, putting Minnesota in an early hole.

By the time the Gophers’ defense made the adjustments, limiting Henne to 7-of-12 for 116 yards and no touchdowns in the second half, the game was seemingly in hand until the final minutes.

Junior linebacker Mike Sherels was encouraged with the defense’s performance, despite the big plays.

“We knew they were a heck of a ball team and that they were going to make big play despite what we did,” he said. “We got some things we can build on. Shutting them down in the second half was big, but those long touchdowns hurt us.”

Sophomore wide receiver Mario Manningham and junior wide receiver Arrington caught big touchdown catches in the first half.

Manningham could pick up his third straight Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week award for his performance.

Two of Arrington’s three first-half receptions were for scores, a 37- and 16-yarder, while one of Manningham’s two first-half receptions was a 41-yard touchdown catch.

Arrington did not catch a pass in the second half, while Manningham hauled in three more huge catches to finish with five for 131 yards.

“They got a lot of playmakers, lot of athletes, and that’s why they’re the No. 6 team in the nation,” Sherels said. “But I was definitely happy with the adjustments we made from halftime on.”

Unfortunately for the Gophers, those adjustments came too late. Moral victories aren’t real victories, and Minnesota now finds itself 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 2001.

Mason, encouraged by many aspects of the game, said the perennially weak secondary will have to improve if the Gophers want to get in the win column.

“We can do better,” he said. “We need to do better.”