Wilson in all the right places for Minnesota

Damien Wilson leads the Big Ten with 24 tackles this season.

Minnesota linebacker Damien Wilson carries the United States flag onto the field Saturday prior to the game against Middle Tennessee State at TCF Bank Stadium.

Amanda Snyder

Minnesota linebacker Damien Wilson carries the United States flag onto the field Saturday prior to the game against Middle Tennessee State at TCF Bank Stadium.

Jack Satzinger

When an agonizing second half of football for the Gophers had finally ended, senior linebacker Damien Wilson described his second-quarter interception in simple terms.

“Right spot at the right time,” he said.

And that’s the thing. Wilson is almost always in the right place at the right time for Minnesota’s defense. His interception was just a microcosm of what has been an impressive 15 games for him as a Big Ten linebacker.

Before Saturday’s 35-24 victory, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill raved about Wilson’s development. Wilson started all but one game in 2013, his first season at Minnesota after transferring from Jones County Junior College in Mississippi.

On Saturday, Wilson acknowledged the steps he has taken, even after finishing second on the team with 78 tackles last season.

“This year I know the defense a little better and the coaches got a little more confidence in me, so I’m able to get my number called a little more often,” Wilson said.

Whether it’s getting his number called or being in the “right spot at the right time,” Wilson has shined in the early season.

His 14 tackles on Saturday were a team high, and he also led Minnesota in the season opener with 10 tackles.

Now Wilson leads the Big Ten in tackles through two games with 24. 

If Wilson keeps putting up those numbers, he may have a career at the next level. It doesn’t hurt that he has unique physical tools.

“Damien was measured by the NFL scouts, measured by how long his arms are, and they are longer than Ra’Shede [Hageman’s] arms,” Kill said Tuesday. “When you have length, you can keep people from blocking you and tackle better.”

Wilson may be just a few months from finishing his collegiate career, but associate head coach Tracy Claeys said he still thinks Wilson can get better. 

“He’ll continue to improve, so we’re very pleased with where Damien is at,” Claeys said Tuesday. “You don’t find too many people his size that run like he does, so we’re pleased with him.”

But the Gophers weren’t pleased with their effort in the second half Saturday.

“We just have to finish the game off, really,” sophomore defensive back Jalen Myrick said. “Stop being complacent. Just being up in the first half and going out and finishing the game.”

After Myrick and Wilson’s interceptions, Minnesota went into the locker room with a 28-0 halftime lead. Middle Tennessee State responded with a 24-7 run in the second half, exposing the Gophers to be “lackadaisical,” as senior running back David Cobb put it.

But even in an ugly half of football, Wilson was still in all the right places, tallying six second-half tackles  — staving off the Blue Raiders and stopping what would have been an embarrassing collapse.

“I think that we played a good, solid first half, and then we didn’t play as well as we liked to in the second half,” Kill said after the contest. “The bottom line is we won the game.”