Gophers force four turnovers, and you can’t take that away

Minnesota's defense had four takeaways against the Rams and prevented a late rally.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – For as few impact plays as Minnesota’s football team’s defense had made in its last 15 games, you can’t blame defensive coordinator Greg Hudson for trying to pad the Gophers’ takeaway total in their win over Colorado State.

“We had five (takeaways),” he said, adding a fourth-down stop with two minutes left to the total.

Technically, it was four, but Hudson’s contention notwithstanding, Minnesota made more than enough plays to prevent Colorado State from mounting any kind of a comeback attempt in the Gophers’ 34-16 win on Saturday.

Down 31-16 with less than 12 minutes to play, Colorado State had the ball in Minnesota territory and a chance to cut its deficit to one touchdown. But Gophers cornerback Ukee Dozier broke off coverage on a deep route, coming back to snatch Rams quarterback Justin Holland’s pass for a back-breaking interception.

“(Secondary coach David Lockwood) called Cover 2 (formation), I guess, and the coaches knew they would run a pass,” Dozier said. “I just came back and I got it.”

Added Hudson: “Coach Lockwood made that call, and Ukee executed it. He did what he’s coached to do, and I’m happy for him.”

The play was indicative of the ball-hawking tendencies developing in Minnesota’s secondary – a trait that has been conspicuously absent the last several years.

Minnesota, which finished tied for ninth in the Big Ten in takeaways last year, picked off two passes in last week’s win over Illinois State. But by defensive tackle Darrell Reid’s estimation, they dropped “at least seven interceptions” in that game.

On Saturday, the Gophers intercepted Holland three times and forced two fumbles, one of which they recovered.

It was their first game with three or more takeaways since the 2002 Music City Bowl – Hudson’s first contest as defensive coordinator – and even though they gave up 424 yards of total offense, turnovers cover a multitude of sins.

“You’re pleased to see guys get their hands on the ball in the secondary,” Hudson said. “We’ve still got to improve on tackling, but we took a step in the right direction.”

The first takeaway came with 1:29 left in the first quarter, when cornerback Trumaine Banks intercepted Holland at Minnesota’s 27-yard line, eventually leading to a Rhys Lloyd field goal that made it 17-3.

On the Rams’ next possession, safety Brandon Owens forced Holland to throw a screen pass that defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery snagged for his first career interception.

The Gophers blew a chance to seal the game off Dozier’s interception when Lloyd missed his second field goal of the game. But on the Rams’ first play, Holland missed an exchange with running back Gartrell Johnson, and the Gophers’ Keith Lipka pounced on the ball, setting up a field goal to finish Colorado State.

Minnesota’s defense still exhibited plenty of warts, but unlike last week, a lack of aggression certainly wasn’t one of them.

“We’ve still got a lot of things to work on, but we had some good things happen, too,” defensive tackle Mark Losli said. “We’re moving toward becoming the kind of defense we want to be.”