Minnesota defense cages the Bobcats

David La

On 15 occasions during Saturday’s game against Ohio, the public address announcer at the Metrodome reminded the Gophers faithful that it was third down, and the Minnesota defense could use a lift.
The crowd responded dutifully with their cheers and, in turn, so did the defense. Ohio converted only thrice on third down for the day against a fast and furious Gophers defense.
“I’ll always take a good defense (over a good offense),” coach Glen Mason said before the game. “Typically, if you check the Big Ten Conference, those teams that finish 1-2-3 in team defense are the teams that are playing in those January first bowl games.”
The bowl-hopeful Gophers succeeded in bottling up the Bobcats’ wishbone attack, looking like a defense that will finish nearer to the top of the Big Ten rankings than any in recent memory. In the 33-7 loss, Ohio managed 210 yards of offense, scored once and turned the ball over four times.
Leading the charge was junior defensive end Karon Riley, a transfer player from Southern Methodist University. Riley made six tackles — three for losses — and notched one sack. No. 91 was all smiles after the game, but sounded serious when talking about his predictions for what is to come from the defensive unit.
“Last year was a great defense, but it was missing a few things,” Riley said. “This year we’re going to be great and we’ll continue to get better.”
Last season’s defense was a solid group, finishing sixth in the Big Ten in both total yards and points allowed. While impressive, there are many new plateaus for the defense to reach this season. So how will they get there?
Strong safety Tyrone Carter, who has crunched more numbers than an H&R Block accountant, sees the keys to improvement this season as mostly mental.
“No doubt,” said Carter when asked if his unit can go above expectations set by last season. “We’ve built a lot of confidence, a lot of character and the attitude where we can stop the run; we can stop anything that we face.”
Just a spoonful of swagger helped Minnesota drive Ohio’s offense into the ground, and helped make Ohio coach Jim Grobe a believer. His wishbone offense was snapped in two, with Riley seemingly pulling from one end and Carter from the other. But football is a team game, and the constant gang-tackling of the Gophers’ squad is what left the most indelible image.
“The thing that impressed me the most was not individual guys defensively, but their whole team,” Grobe said. “They remind me a lot of Wisconsin’s defense — being physical, chasing the ball, well coached, all those kinds of things.”
The glaring difference between the defensive units of the Badgers and Gophers, of course, is that Wisconsin has ended five of the past six seasons with a bowl appearance.
This year, the Gophers have their sights set on a bowl game of their own, and will rely heavily on an already established defense to meet that goal.
With potent Big Ten offenses like Ohio Sate and Purdue waiting further down the schedule, the win Saturday should be treated like a defensive series within a game: Credit yourself for a job well done, but get ready to strap up your helmet for the next go-around.
But this group should be ready to give the crowds more reason to cheer. Or at least less of a reason to moan.

David La Vaque covers football and can be reached at [email protected]