Giving up big plays a concern

C.J. Spang

While there wasn’t much that went wrong for Minnesota in its 63-26 thrashing of Indiana, the Gophers defense did allow Indiana to gain 500 yards of total offense for the first time in three years.

But it didn’t matter how many yards Indiana gained, because Minnesota beat them where it counted – on the scoreboard.

After the game, Hoosiers coach Terry Hoeppner made it very clear he didn’t care about the yards.

“It means absolutely nothing,” he said. “There’s only one statistic that ever matters and that’s points. I’ve never had a team give up that many points before.”

Gophers coach Glen Mason had a similar response, saying he wasn’t concerned with the yards his defense gave up, but rather the big plays it allowed.

“I don’t care about the yards,” he said. “I care about some of the plays that we gave up.

Minnesota gave up three plays of 35 yards or more on the afternoon, two of which went for touchdowns.

After the Gophers sent a punt into the end zone for a touchback, and with Indiana trailing 35-0, redshirt freshman quarterback Kellen Lewis hit sophomore wide receiver James Hardy for a 37-yard gain on the first play of the drive.

“Big plays – they’re going to happen, you just have to limit them,” sophomore defensive end Steve Davis said. “You just have to be out there, knowing that you can’t make the same mistake twice.”

That didn’t happen for Minnesota, because on the very next play, Lewis hit redshirt freshman running back Demetrius McCray for a 43-yard touchdown pass. The two-play, 80-yard drive lasted just 39 seconds.

The other big play given up by Minnesota’s defense was at the beginning of the third quarter when Lewis hit Hardy again, this time for a 48-yard score.

Neither score had an effect on the game’s outcome, so the yards the defense gave up didn’t bother junior linebacker Mike Sherels.

“They had some athletes. They made some plays. We messed up some things,” Sherels said.

“They were going to get yards regardless.”

So how does a team go about preventing the big play?

Davis said the coaching staff prepares the defense so it knows where it has to be to stop the play and it’s just a matter of being in the right place and right time.

Sherels’ explanation went further, saying it’s a trust issue between teammates.

“Oftentimes when we’re giving up big plays, it’s guys worrying about what the guy next to them is doing,” he said.

“It comes down to doing your assignment and trusting your teammates. Ö You just have to trust that your teammate will be there to make his play, do his job, and you have to do yours.”

Minnesota’s defense was able to do its job after each score and prevent Indiana from getting any momentum.

On the Hoosiers’ first drive after McCray’s score, the Gophers forced Indiana to turn the ball over on downs.

The defense’s ability to regroup was even more immediate after the Hardy score as Minnesota blocked the extra point attempt.

“Once they get in the end zone, you can’t get down on it,” Sherels said. “You can’t let that one play ruin your whole game.”