Revamped defense should make Music City interesting

Greg Hudson is gone, and two linebackers are looking to shore up the secondary.

Dan Miller

Rolling into Nashville, Tenn., with a new defensive coordinator and a few position changes, Minnesota’s football team will look very different defensively for the Dec. 31 Music City Bowl than it did during the regular season.

Minnesota coach Glen Mason announced several position changes to the Gophers defense Friday, and more could be on the way.

Notably, junior Terrance Campbell, the Gophers former strong side linebacker, switched to strong safety.

Campbell, who Mason said was undersized for his position, was the Gophers’ second-leading tackler this season with 73 stops. Mason said he runs a 4.5- second 40-yard dash and should not have problems dealing with fast wide receivers and running backs.

Minnesota sophomore Brandon Owens, who split time this season at drop linebacker with Dominique Sims, will also be switched to defensive back.

The Gophers needed to shore up their secondary after starting free safety John Pawielski broke his leg against Iowa Nov. 13.

With Owens in the mix and 6-foot-1-inch senior Ukee Dozier already there, the Gophers have a bigger and stronger secondary.

Alabama coach Mike Shula said the Minnesota defenders he saw on tape, despite finishing ninth in the Big Ten in total defense, looked very aggressive and could present some problems for Alabama’s lackluster offense.

“They really challenge you,” Shula said. “They are athletic and aren’t afraid to get in your face.”

Even with all the position changes and a new defensive coordinator, Gophers senior safety Justin Fraley said the team’s transition to the bowl game will go smoothly.

“It’s not a setback for us,” Fraley said. “Nothing is going to change much. What we are concentrating on right now is that we play Alabama in Nashville (Tenn.) on Dec. 31.”

Even though the Tide has the worst passing game in the Southeastern Conference, Mason said the Gophers defense will still be challenged.

The Tide has lost 21 scholarships since being sanctioned by the NCAA two years ago. But Mason said that does not matter much.

“It doesn’t help, let’s face it,” Mason said. “(But) they don’t have many bad-looking players. I can’t remember them ever having any bad-looking players. And they still have a great running game.”

Mixing up the defense for the bowl game, the Gophers will also get a chance to look at what it could look like next year after four of their starters graduate.

Mason said after the bowl game announcement Nov. 28 that radical changes become counterproductive.

“Sometimes, just because you change doesn’t mean it is going to get better,” he said. “I have never been one of those knee-jerk guys in good situations – or bad – where you just jump to conclusions one way or the other. But, obviously, there is some discussion on how we can make things better.”