Defense forces five turnovers in SJSU win

Minnesota’s defense made plays when it mattered most in Saturday’s game.

Jack Satzinger

Minnesota’s offense was more one-dimensional than ever on Saturday, pounding the ball on the ground for 380 yards while only passing for 7.

But that didn’t matter, as the Gophers (3-1) made plays on the defensive side of the ball when it mattered most.

Minnesota has playmakers at every level of its defense and benefited from looking back on film from last year’s 43-24 victory over the Spartans.

“Obviously the QB last year was a notch better, but the film from last year definitely helped as far as formation-wise,” senior linebacker Damien Wilson said.

Some of Minnesota’s forced turnovers came from great defensive plays. But junior defensive back Damarius Travis received a gift on the second play from scrimmage when Spartans quarterback Blake Jurich underthrew a pass, resulting in an interception.

“I was kind of surprised,” Travis said. “He threw directly to me, and I just caught it.”

With about 30 seconds left in the first half, Jurich threw another interception when junior defensive back Eric Murray jumped a route to give the Gophers the ball deep in enemy territory.

The Gophers’ offense capitalized, punching in a touchdown to give the team a 17-7 lead and momentum heading into halftime.

“Any time you can cause turnovers, you are going to have a great chance to win,” Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said.

After Ryan Santoso botched a 49-yard field goal attempt, Minnesota’s defense looked sloppy in its first series of the second half.

San Jose State converted on third down with a Jurich pass to Jarrod Lawson for 19 yards. The next time the Gophers faced a third down, they received a penalty for a substitution infraction.

Then, on third-and-8, Jurich ran for 12 yards to put the Spartans in the red zone.

But shortly after, San Jose State’s methodical drive was halted.

Wilson blitzed and leveled Lawson, forcing and recovering a fumble to give Minnesota’s offense the ball back.

“I hit the gap full speed. I met him in the hole, and I felt my hand on the ball, so I just ripped it out. And as it was coming out, I saw it on the ground next to me, so I just scooped it,” said Wilson, who leads the Gophers with 44 tackles on the year.

Jurich fumbled early in the fourth quarter, and freshman defensive lineman Gaelin Elmore pounced on the loose ball. Later in the quarter, defensive end Theiren Cockran sacked backup quarterback Joe Gray to force a fumble that Michael Amaefula recovered to ice the game.

Last week, Kill said the catalyst for Minnesota’s 30-7 loss at TCU was committing five turnovers. On Saturday, the Gophers’ defense had five takeaways, showing they’re a force to be reckoned with in Big Ten play — even if the offense is not.

“I feel like we came out with more energy today. [Against] TCU, we [were] flat,” Wilson said.