Vereen vies for secondary consistency

Brock Vereen hurt his knee against Iowa, adding to the Gophers’ recent string of injuries.

Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen practices Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

Daily File Photo, Emily Dunker

Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen practices Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

by Jack Satzinger

In the second quarter of Minnesota’s 23-7 loss to Iowa last Saturday, senior safety Brock Vereen broke up a Jake Rudock pass intended for George Kittle.

That pass breakup helped halt an Iowa drive that started deep in Gophers territory.

But after the play, Vereen limped to the sideline with an apparent knee injury.

Minutes later, without Vereen on the field, Rudock threw a screen pass to Damond Powell that went 74 yards to the house and gave the Hawkeyes a 17-0 lead.

“We felt like we might have had a chance to do something,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said after the game about the play. “It just came down to that.”

Minnesota’s secondary was thought of as a team strength entering the season, but with a string of injuries — including Vereen’s against Iowa — the group has struggled to maintain consistency.

Junior Derrick Wells missed the season opener against Nevada-Las Vegas with shoulder and hamstring injuries. Junior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun filled in with an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown against UNLV, but he tore his anterior cruciate ligament a week later at New Mexico State.

Wells has returned to the fold, but his shoulder periodically acts up, forcing him to miss time. He left the game against Iowa and had to put on a shoulder brace before returning.

Amid the injury woes, the secondary has struggled at times defending the pass. Minnesota gave up 439 passing yards against San Jose State on Sept. 21, and a week later, it gave up the 74-yard touchdown against Iowa without the leader Vereen on the field.

“They caught us in a situation where they executed perfectly, and they got us knocked down,” head coach Jerry Kill said.

Vereen returns

Vereen came back into the game after halftime and made another key play to give the Gophers a chance.

With Iowa leading 20-7 and threatening to score again, Vereen intercepted a Rudock pass in the end zone.

But Minnesota’s offense was unable to capitalize.

Vereen was noticeably limping after the game but said he didn’t think his knee injury would impact his ability to play down the road.

“I feel like if I’m able to play the rest of the game, it’s not a serious issue,” Vereen said. “So we’ll see.”

Gameplan for Gardner

Minnesota’s secondary will need Vereen this Saturday against a multifaceted Michigan offense.

The No. 19 Wolverines have one of the more dangerous quarterbacks in the nation in junior Devin Gardner.

In four games this season, Gardner has 801 passing yards, 301 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns.

Still, he’s made critical mistakes for Michigan. Gardner has thrown eight interceptions this season — fifth-most in the nation.

Vereen appeared focused on a bounce-back win after the loss to Iowa. And he and his defense will need to be in order to beat Michigan, which has won five straight games against the Gophers.

“If we expect to go into Michigan and get a win there, it’s going to take complete focus,” Vereen said.