Youthful defense struggles mightily against Toledo

Anthony Maggio

The six new starters on Minnesota’s defense didn’t receive a warm welcome to their new jobs last Thursday.

Toledo tailback Chester Taylor and the rest of the Rockets exposed the Gophers youth and inexperience en route to a 38-7 victory.

The Minnesota defense had many question marks going into the season opener.

Of the 11 defensive starters, only four are returning and only one is still at the same position.

After the game, questions still remained and the defense is searching for answers.

“The big thing is not to overreact, not push the panic button, but go back and evaluate every aspect of the game,” coach Glen Mason said. “Ultimately it’s my responsibility.”

Toledo’s offensive assault came on all fronts, but the majority of the damage came on the ground. Taylor carried the ball 18 times for a total of 186 yards and three touchdowns.

His longest scamper was a 64-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to give the Rockets a 17-0 lead.

By then, the momentum was in Toledo’s favor for good, as the Rockets did what they wanted when they wanted with little resistance from the Gophers defense. Minnesota gave up 512 yards of total offense to the Rockets.

“I don’t consider it embarrassing,” senior linebacker Greg White said. “Our defense is kind of young. It was just disappointing.”

Taylor wasn’t the only Rocket running circles around Gophers.

Antwon McCray added 120 yards on 14 carries. Overall the defense gave up 363 yards on the ground.

The pass defense was slightly more successful, allowing 149 yards. The Gophers gave up 17 receptions on 25 attempts.

Minnesota lost to another Midwest Athletic Conference a year ago, being knocked off by Ohio in the second game of the year. Ironically, the Gophers gave up the exact same rushing total: 363 yards.

After having so much trouble handling a MAC team like Toledo, Minnesota’s defense has to be concerned about facing potent offenses in the Big Ten.

A year ago, a veteran Gophers unit finished eighth among conference teams in scoring defense (26.5 points per game) and seventh in rushing defense (166.1 ypg).

“We’ve got to make a lot of adjustments,” safety Jack Brewer said. “We need to really get our confidence back on defense.”

Last season, the Gophers gave up over 400 total yards on six occasions – despite boasting eight returning starters.

With so many questions on defense going into this season, combined with the first game results, Minnesota has reasons to be concerned.

“(The defense bouncing back) is a challenge for this whole football team,” Mason said.

How the defense recovers mentally from such a big loss is a concern, again due to the lack of experience.

But White sees the defense getting better with time.

“I thought we could’ve played a lot better, but we didn’t,” White said. “We’ll get better as time goes on. Our defense, we stay hungry.”

Anthony Maggio covers football and
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