Hageman preps for San Jose State

The Gophers will look to improve to 4-0 for the second straight season.

Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman sacks Western Illinois quarterback on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at TCF Bank Stadium.

Amanda Snyder, Daily File Photo

Minnesota defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman sacks Western Illinois quarterback on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, at TCF Bank Stadium.

Jack Satzinger

This Saturday, Minnesota hosts San Jose State and highly touted quarterback David Fales.

And senior defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman has already proven this season that he’ll do whatever it takes to get to Fales this weekend.

His tenacity and high motor were on display last weekend against Western Illinois.

In the fourth quarter against WIU, Hageman’s helmet was ripped off mid-play by an opposing offensive lineman, but he still managed to get in the backfield and deliver a sack.

“You’ve got to be mentally tough,” Hageman said of the play. “The goal is getting to the quarterback, and I don’t care [what’s in my way].”

That’s included more than just having his helmet ripped off. Hageman said teams are throwing more double teams his way this season.

Still, Hageman, a projected future first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, has anchored a defense that’s allowed an average of just 18.7 points per game — third-best in the Big Ten.

Hageman tied for a team-high six tackles to go along with his sack Saturday. After failing to record a sack in the first two games of the season, Hageman was asked if last Saturday’s performance was his best of the season so far.

“I felt it was an OK game for me,” he said. “There [are] always things I can work on.”

Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said he was “pleased” with his defense’s performance against WIU. He added that he thinks Hageman has a lot of room to grow despite being one of the nation’s top defensive players.

“He needs to learn that his upside is still a lot higher than what it is right now,” Claeys said. “He [has] responded well to that challenge, especially in the fourth quarter when we needed some people to step up and make some plays for us.”

SJSU’s offense is likely the most talented the Gophers have seen yet this season.

And whether the offense throws a bunch of double teams at Hageman, or even rips his helmet off, Hageman said he’s preparing to do whatever it takes to get to the quarterback.

“I’ve seen them play,” Hageman said. “I heard [Fales] is a great quarterback. I’m definitely going to watch film after practice and get a feel for the [offensive] line and see how they move.”

Special teams playmaker

Hageman’s playmaking ability stretches to more than defense, and the 300-plus-pound lineman has made his mark on special teams early this season by blocking kicks.

In Minnesota’s first game of the season against Nevada-Las Vegas, Hageman blocked a field goal that was returned for a touchdown by senior defensive back Martez Shabazz. And last week against WIU, Hageman blocked an extra point.

Hageman said there’s no particular recipe for blocking a kick.

He just tries to keep a low pad level and explode through the offensive line. He leaps for the ball after he breaks through the line.

His 36-inch vertical probably doesn’t hurt.

Gaining attention

On Tuesday, Hageman said he’s been under a microscope this year after all the preseason hype. That added attention has opened up opportunities for some of his teammates up front.

Gophers redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Theiren Cockran leads the Big Ten in sacks this season with three. Cockran had two in the second half of last week’s game against WIU.

“He didn’t play a lot a year ago at full speed,” Claeys said. “He was hurt all year long with a foot injury and struggled. I think he has tremendous upside.”

De’Vondre Campbell is another name that often comes up when talking about potential. Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said the redshirt sophomore has the potential to develop into a Hageman-like talent in the future.