First-team defense struggles throughout

Dan Miller

After Minnesota’s second-string defense gave up 14 points in the fourth quarter of its 63-21 win over Toledo, Gophers coaches were critical last week of their back up defenders.

With heavy underdog Division I-AA Illinois State coming to town, it set up the perfect opportunity for the Gophers’ reserve defenders to redeem themselves.

“They (Gophers players) said their back ups were going to get a lot of reps this game,” Illinois State cornerback Joe Walkins said.

But once the game started, that notion quickly slipped away.

The Gophers’ first-string defense, which stifled Toledo Sept. 4, allowing only seven points well into the fourth quarter, played the entire game in Saturday’s 37-21 win at the Metrodome and gave up 480 total yards to the Redbirds.

Ever since fall practices started, the Gophers’ coaches and players have talked about their improved defense. But after Saturday’s performance, they acknowledged a break in that improvement.

“We all felt like we took a step back today,” cornerback Ukee Dozier said. “We just have to go back and regroup individually and as a team.”

Redbirds senior quarterback Yance Vaughan, who threw for 372 yards, said he knew his teammates would come fired up for the game, but he didn’t expect them to do that well.

“I am not surprised the way we performed, but I didn’t expect 480 (yards) and to move the ball the way we did,” Vaughan said.

The Gophers’ two starting cornerbacks, Dozier and sophomore Trumaine Banks, both had interceptions in the game. But they also had two pass interference calls apiece.

Banks said after the game that the Gophers will need to go over things in practice to get back on track before next Saturday’s game at Colorado State.

“I think (the Illinois State game) is definitely a wake-up call,” Banks said. “We don’t want to have these mistakes again, so we are going to put everything we need to do in practice to make sure we don’t have the same result in Colorado State.”

After last week’s game against Toledo, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said his players’ mental approach to the game was the reason for their success.

In post-game comments Saturday, Hudson said he thought before the game his team was ready but didn’t carry it over into the game.

“From a preparation standpoint, we thought we were good,” Hudson said. “We need to get our mind right.”

A lingering problem for Minnesota’s defense has been dealing with success and maintaining it against good teams as well as lesser teams.

“It was a mindset thing that we were a Big Ten team and we should dominate them. We underestimated them,” nose tackle Anthony Montgomery said.

Hudson said he knows the Gophers can’t let that kind of mentality thrive down the road.

“If you want to be a great team,” he said, “you’d better learn how to handle success, period.”