Defense active in Saturday win

Matt Perkins

All offseason, Minnesota football made it impossible to talk about their defense without focusing attention on the new attitude they planned on having on the field this year.

And through the first two games of the season, they made that attitude very evident causing seven turnovers, including six forced fumbles.

The Gophers beat Colorado State on Saturday 56-24 in front of an announced crowd of 40,221 at the Metrodome, limiting the Rams to 59 rushing yards on 25 carries.

But with a 49-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, it appeared as if the new attitude abandoned the Gophers second-string defense, causing some concern for coach Glen Mason.

“I thought our defense played well again today. We put the second-teamers in and they stunk up the joint,” Mason said. “Anyway, we have a lot of work to do, but there are a lot of good things out there.”

Colorado State scored two relatively easy touchdowns with less than 10 minutes left in the game. Both of the drives were helmed by Rams backup quarterback Caleb Hanie; one going for 77 yards in less than a minute, and the other a 90-yard, 18-play drive that kept the Gophers defense on the field for six minutes.

The standout performers for the Gophers were again strong safety Brandon Owens and linebacker Mike Sherels.

Owens had six tackles and a forced fumble, but more importantly made some hard hits downfield to make the Rams’ receivers question where they were before reaching out for the deep ball. But even Owens shared Mason’s disappointment with the late game scores by the Rams.

“That shouldn’t happen. Just missed assignments, really,” Owens said. “Stay in coverage, read the keys. Be in your zone at the right time. If (Mason) feels we’re not ready to play, or not knowing our assignments, then we should be out of the game. That’s the big thing, got to make assignments to play football.”

Sherels took home defensive player of the week honors, recording five tackles, recovering two fumbles and snagging an interception as well.

Sherels said, “I would say an improvement as far as keeping our intensity up; we took a step back as far as in the fourth quarter, just kind of breaking down fundamentally.”

But the play that stole the show for the Gophers was the punt block that came in the third quarter. It was the first punt block the Gophers have had since their bowl game against Arkansas in 2002. Alex Daniels recovered the block and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown.

Offensively, the stars were again the offensive line and the guys in the backfield.

Laurence Maroney had what he would call an average game with 135 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns.

Rather, it was backup running back Gary Russell that stole the show when he got the opportunity. Russell had just seven carries for 66 yards and two touchdowns.

Quarterback Bryan Cupito had typical numbers, going 9 of 21 passes for 159 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

But beyond the overall offensive and defensive performances by the Gophers lies a problem for Mason – making sure his second-string defense is prepared to make plays when they get the chance. And it was fairly clear to him Saturday that they didn’t come out with the same intensity as the starters.

“You look at the stats, and a lot of those stats came late in the game when we were playing back on our heels,” Mason said. “We had down-the-line guys in there, but I expected them to play better.”