Minnesota’s defense falters without Winfield Jr.

Minnesota gave up 42 points Saturday after allowing an average of nine per game in the first three.

Paul Hodowanic

Minnesota’s 2018 loss to Maryland closely resembled the team’s 2017 loss to the Terrapins: after Antoine Winfield Jr. got injured, the defense struggled.

The Gophers’ defense couldn’t contain Maryland’s offense as they let up huge scoring plays that were the difference in Saturday’s 42-13 loss. 

The Gophers (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) gave up five touchdowns of over twenty yards, as the Maryland (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) offense never had to enter the red zone. 

“We gave up way too many big plays and missed a lot of tackles” head coach P.J. Fleck told reporters after the game. “They have speed everywhere, they’ll kill you with that and they did.”

On the second play of the game, Maryland’s JeShaun Jones took an end-around carry 27 yards up to the middle of the field, and just a few plays later running back Anthony McFarland found a gap and ran 26 yards for a touchdown to put the Terrapins up 7-0 early. 

With 4:03 remaining in the first quarter, Maryland running back Ty Johnson took a carry, broke a tackle, bounced to the outside and took it to the end zone for a 81-yard touchdown, extending the home team’s lead to 14-0. 

The Gophers suffered a key loss in the first quarter as defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. left the game with a leg injury and did not return. The redshirt sophomore has been one of their biggest contributors on defense and was key in the Minnesota’s game plan to stop big plays. 

“[Winfield Jr. is] an emotional leader, when he’s on the field everyone feels a lot better,” Fleck told reporters. “It comes down to me, I didn’t coach [the team] well enough.” 

Minnesota, down by two touchdowns, didn’t get any better after Winfield went down with the injury.

In the second quarter with 4:43 to play, quarterback Kasim Hill evaded a broken pocket and found wide receiver D.J. Turner on a 54-yard catch and run for a touchdown. 

The Gophers’ fortunes didn’t change in the second half as McFarland found space again, this time busting through the defense for a 64-yard touchdown run with 6:27 to play in the third quarter. The touchdown stretched the Maryland lead to 35-13, effectively putting the game away. 

Finally, with 1:12 remaining in the fourth quarter running back Chigoziem Okonkwo found the end zone on a 21-yard touchdown run to end the scoring barrage for the Terrapins.

The Gophers’ run defense which had ranked 8th in the nation coming into the game, struggled immensely in their first Big Ten game of the season giving up 315 yards on the ground, and 432 yards total. 

“We knew it was going to be a tricky offense,” junior linebacker Thomas Barber told reporters after the game. “If we [mistook] our keys even for a split second … we gave up some big runs.” 

McFarland totaled 112 yards for 2 touchdowns and Ty Johnson finished with 123 yards and a touchdown. Both running backs averaged over 10 yards per carry. 

The Gophers’ defense will look to regroup and improve on their lackluster performance during their bye week this week. 

Following the bye week, the Gophers (3-1, 0-1) will face off against Iowa (3-0, 0-0), for homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 6.