In Saturday’s game against No. 8 Wisconsin in Madison, the Gophers will again get a chance to put their money where their mouths have been.
Under criticism for a pass defense that gives up more than 300 yards per game, the Gophers have provided a united defense of their defense.
Linebacker Parc Williams stuck up for the secondary after it allowed a school record 604 yards passing for Purdue a month ago. He said the defense is, “made to stop teams like Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin — teams that like to run the ball.”
Wisconsin (8-0, 5-0 in the Big Ten), meanwhile, is definitely a team that likes to run the ball, especially with 5-foot-10, 260-pound Ron Dayne in the backfield.
Dayne needs two yards to top the 1,000-yard mark for the third consecutive year, and his mark of 4,282 yards in his first three seasons ranks fourth all-time.
“It’s not just his size,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said of Dayne. “If he was just big, that wouldn’t be a problem, but he runs like a running back and happens to be the size of a lineman.”
The Gophers (4-4, 1-4) have the seventh-best rushing defense in the nation, allowing just 85.8 yards a game. But the Wisconsin running attack is 14th in the nation with a 225.6 yards per game average.
So, something needs to give in this matchup that Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said makes him nervous.
“It’s not a great matchup for us because they play such great run defense,” he said, “and that’s what we want to do, because we’re not great throwers.”
Mason all but exploded with laughter when he was told of Alvarez’s matchup worries.
“He’s undefeated and ranked eight in the country — yeah, I got him right where I want him,” Mason said. “He says nice things about my team and I say nice things about his team. The difference is I’m telling the truth.”
The Badgers’ 8-0 start is the best in Wisconsin history since they started 9-0 in 1901, and Saturday’s game will be the 107th in a series that is the longest in Division I-A. Minnesota holds a 57-42-8 edge in the matchup.
To win Paul Bunyan’s Axe back from the Badgers, the Gophers need to stop Dayne and his behemoth offensive line led by left tackle Aaron Gibson, a 6-foot-7, 390-pound titan.
Gibson is ranked as one of the top linemen in the country thanks to his tremendous athletic ability for a player of his size.
He bench presses almost 500 pounds and squat presses 745. He has a 31-1/2 inch vertical jump and can dunk a basketball as well as do the splits. He has a helmet size of 8-5/8, which is the biggest helmet ever made by equipment manufacturer Riddell and it has to be stretched each time he puts it on.
Gophers defensive end Curtese Poole, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 231 pounds, will line up against Gibson — a matchup that has Mason shaking his head in disbelief.
“You’ve got a semi-truck coming this way and a Volkswagen going that way,” Mason said of the duel.
Giving away almost 160 pounds to Gibson, Poole said he has never seen a man as big as Gibson in his life, nor a running back like Dayne with his size and running ability. Poole’s strength lies in his quickness, which he said will be crucial in facing the magnificent, mountainous duo.
Gophers defensive coordinator David Gibbs has stuck to his guns with a defense that sports eight- and nine-man fronts to load up against the run. But when asked if the Badgers offense is what his defense is specifically designed for, Gibbs said few defenses can contain “The Great Dayne.”
“We’re not kidding ourselves, we’re not going to stop him,” Gibbs said. “We’re mismatched. It’s David and Goliath. They’re huge and we’re little. But we get a lot of hats to the ball and that’s how we’ll contain him.”