Defensive improvements shine through in loss to Iowa

Minnesota gave up a season-low 21 points against Iowa in Iowa City.

by Luke Middendorf

During their disappointing 1-10 season, the largest cloud of negativity hanging over the Gophers has been on account of their defense.

Although fingers have been pointed in all directions, every position on the defensive side of the ball has struggled at one point or another this season.

After much talk about a big turnaround planned for last weekend’s game against Illinois, the opposite occurred as the floodgates were opened when the Gophers managed their worst defensive effort of the season, giving up 665 yards of total offense to the Illini while looking dazed, confused and careless.

So on Saturday at Iowa, little was expected from Minnesota’s defense from fans and reporters alike.

However, it became quickly apparent that expectations remained high in the Gophers’ locker room as they played undoubtedly their best defensive game of the year.

In giving up just 20 points to the Hawkeyes on Saturday, while not allowing a single point in the second half, Minnesota’s defense made observers look twice at the scoreboard and two more times in the season record books.

Defining Moment

After an excellent punt by Justin Kucek to put Iowa’s offense on its 4-yard line, the Gophers’ defense was able to create a third-and-six situation for the Hawkeyes on their 8-yard line. After a short scramble by Iowa’s quarterback short of the first down, defensive end Derrick Onwuachi planted a late hit after the play which resulted in a 15-yard penalty and a first down.

The least the Gophers had given up before Saturday was 27 points to North Dakota State University, which isn’t even in the same division as Minnesota.

Obviously, the defensive improvement on Saturday for Minnesota was not enough to claim their first Big Ten win of the season, but it was seen as a stepping stone and a statement for head coach Tim Brewster and his players.

“The defense played great today, and it was so much fun being out there,” senior safety Dominique Barber said.

Quote of the Game

“I asked them (Minnesota) after the game, ‘Who just feels like you’ve been stuck in the gut with a searing knife?’ ” Brewster said about his post game speech to his team. “Everybody did. I said that’s good because that means we have a chance.”
-Tim Brewster

Brewster shared similar thoughts through his ceaseless optimism and passion for the future of this team.

“It was really exciting to play defense like we did in the second half today,” Brewster said. “They (the defense) have been much maligned over the course of this season.”

The Gophers second half defense that showed up at Kinnick Stadium looked more like the stingy Iowa defense that maybe forgot to put on the right jerseys during halftime.

Player of the Game

Mike Klinkenborg
No. 40 senior linebacker
A.J. Edds
No. 49 sophomore linebacker
• With the Big Ten’s leading tackler in Iowa’s Mike Humpal going down mid-way into the game with an injury, linebackers Klinkenborg and Edds stepped up to hold the Gophers to just 16 points while combining for a total of 28 tackles on the day.

But the defense that Minnesota showed proved to be even better than that of the Hawkeyes in the second half, limiting Iowa’s offense to just 68 total yards while the Gophers offense was able to put up 215 total yards after halftime on the normally superior Hawkeyes’ defense.

“At halftime we reached a breaking point on defense,” senior linebacker Mike Sherels said. “We said enough is enough and put our foot down. It’s time to start playing like we know we can play.”

Sherels led the charge by displaying his captain leadership on the field, gaining his first sack of the season along with nine total tackles.

Minnesota had a season-high three sacks against Iowa’s defense, the other two by sophomore defensive ends Derrick Onwuachi and Lee Campbell.

Another senior that stepped up was cornerback Desi Steib, who had consistently strong coverage on the Hawkeyes receivers to give time to the Gophers pass rushers to get after the quarterback.

“It brings confidence whenever you make plays or whenever you fluster the quarterback like we did,” Steib said.

The senior corner was rewarded for his efforts in the second half by pulling down his second interception in two weeks after previously losing his starting job to one of Minnesota’s wide array of young defensive backs.

Although the strong defensive performance in reality is nothing more than a moral victory, it seemed to go a long way for this often-scrutinized defense.

“It warmed my heart to see these young guys play the way they did today,” Sherels said. “I’m proud of them.”