Gophers’ defense looking for four full quarters

Aaron Blake

Once again, Minnesota football coach Glen Mason feels his defense put in three solid quarters of football last weekend.

And once again, the other quarter played a paramount role in sinking the team.

The Gophers trailed 17-0 after the first quarter, and the three-score deficit would prove insurmountable by game’s end in a 44-38 loss to Michigan State on Saturday.

“They handled it well,” Mason said Tuesday. “We got ourselves in a hole and almost dug ourselves out. Those are positive signs for me. Hopefully we can build on it.”

Mostly, Mason pointed to how his team contained Spartans quarterback Jeff Smoker after the rough opening quarter. The Big Ten’s leading passer had just 146 yards passing after a 106-yard first quarter.

But whether it was the first quarter versus Michigan State or the 31-point fourth quarter against Michigan, these 25 percent shares of the game have been key.

This is the reason Minnesota defensive players now stress the need to eliminate inconsistencies as they enter the final half of the Big Ten season beginning Saturday at Illinois.

“We have our lows – and too many lows,” defensive tackle Darrell Reid said. “That’s why we’ve been losing games. We’ve just got to get rid of those valleys.”

Jackson a receiver?

Before Saturday’s game against the Spartans, junior tailback Terry Jackson II warmed up with the receivers and tight ends, practicing hands drills and routes.

Jackson, Minnesota’s leading rusher last season, with 1,317 yards on the ground, has seen little time on the field since the nonconference season.

In four Big Ten games, Jackson has just eight carries – all coming in a blowout win at Northwestern on Oct. 14.

Now it appears Jackson might be tried at another position to get him more playing time.

“We’ve done that stuff already with a lot of our running backs without actually putting them at wide receiver,” Mason said. “Terry’s a good football player. He showed that last year. You’ve still got to play your best players. That’s the thing you’re always looking at.”

The emergence of senior backup wideout Tony Patterson – who had six catches for 98 yards and a touchdown Saturday – could hurt Jackson’s chances at fitting into a new position.

Bye-bye to the bye

This year, the Gophers avoided defending national champion No. 8 Ohio State and a No. 10 Purdue team that always gives them trouble. But one quirk of the 2003 schedule isn’t quite so advantageous.

Minnesota’s bye week, if it can be called that, comes after its Big Ten season concludes Nov. 15 at Iowa. In effect, it means an extra week before a probable bowl game, and a 12-week season without a break.

Mason admits an earlier pause would be nice in some ways.

“The bye became the product of 11 teams in the Big Ten,” Mason said. “I’ve got mixed opinions on when it’s good and when it’s not good. I’ve always like the bye week when I’ve had injured players. I don’t like having a bye week real late in the year, though.”

Sorgi undergoes surgery

No. 20 Wisconsin’s quarterback, Jim Sorgi, underwent knee surgery Sunday and will miss at least the Badgers’ next game Saturday at Northwestern.

Sorgi started last Saturday in a 26-23 loss to the Boilermakers with what was later revealed to be a slight ligament tear in his knee.

Junior backup Matt Schabert will make his first collegiate start against the Wildcats.

“Matt is a very bright young man,” Badgers coach Barry Alvarez said. “He always understood our system and knew what to do with the ball and how to manage a game. More than anything else, he’s a very heady football player.”

Lion charged with DUI

Penn State leading receiver Tony Johnson was arrested Friday and charged with driving under the influence.

Johnson, brother of 2002 Heisman Trophy second-runner-up Larry Johnson, registered a 0.136 blood-alcohol content. The legal limit in Pennsylvania is 0.08.

“I am unhappy with Tony’s situation because of the fact that I think he should not have been up that late and the whole bit,” Lions coach Joe Paterno said. “Obviously, it will all get blown out of proportion because he is a football player, but he didn’t do anything to anybody.

“I am probably going to have to suspend him from a game or so just because I have to send a message to the squad that it is inappropriate to be out in the middle of the week having a couple of drinks.”