New defensive coordinator will get first test against high-powered Purdue offense

The Gophers will be adjusting to life on the fly with new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi.

Jack Warrick

Head coach P.J. Fleck fired former defensive coordinator Robb Smith on Sunday. The decision to fire his close friend came after Smith’s defense allowed 55 points and 646 total yards of offense to Illinois a day before.

Now, Joe Rossi will take the reins of the defense. 

“What I want him to [do], is be himself,” Fleck said about the change. “Call the game as you call the game. I don’t want you to be anybody else but Joe Rossi.”

Rossi started coaching in 2011, and he has held positions that range from “quality control assistant” — like he was with the Gophers last season — to defensive coordinator. He coached every season since then, except for the 2016 season when there was a head coaching change at Rutgers from Kyle Flood to Chris Ash.

Rossi comes into the position with nine games already played this season. He said it would be selfish to completely change the Minnesota defense when the Gophers have played under Smith for over a season and a half.

“We’ve been through the spring, we’ve been through the summer, we’ve been through seven, eight games, and now we’re not going to be able to make changes other than minor changes,” Rossi said. “There will be a few wrinkles here and there, but, let’s be honest, that can’t happen in one, two days.”

The Gophers defense was ranked as one of the top in the country at the beginning of the season. It was ranked No. 21 in yards per game in the first four games because the Gophers had allowed 27 total points in that stretch. However, since the first three weeks, the Gophers have dropped off in Big Ten play. It started with a lopsided 42-13 loss to Maryland, where the Terrapins put up 432 total yards and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. went down for the season with a foot injury.  

Since Big Ten play started, Minnesota has allowed an average of 43 points per game and 508 total yards per game.

Gophers’ defensive end Carter Coughlin described Rossi as someone who is concerned with the details, having worked with him as a pass rush coach last year.

“He’s unbelievably detailed, and when you go out to practice, you know inside and out what your job is supposed to be,” Coughlin said. “He’s bringing that to the linebackers now; he’s bringing that to the entire defense, so it’s exciting.”

Minnesota takes on a Purdue team that ranks seventh among NCAA FBS teams with an average of 330 passing yards per game. The Gophers rank in the middle of both the Big Ten and NCAA, allowing an average of 236 passing yards per game.

Purdue quarterback David Blough, a fifth-year senior, completed 23-32 passes for 333 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in a 38-36 victory over then-no. 16 Iowa last game. Blough’s favorite receiver this year is freshman Rondale Moore. Moore sits just behind Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson on the Big Ten receiving leaders chart with 74 catches for 833 yards and seven touchdowns.

“They’re good, they’re throwing the ball well. They’ve got legit receivers, they have two, three guys that are really, really good players,” Rossi said. “I think the biggest thing is they are a team that excels on the big play. … They’re a very talented team.”