Column: Gophers’ defense, not offense, will make difference

David Nelson

My apologies to the Gophers fans out there hoping for a team with an offense that could pick apart a defense at will.

That won’t be your team this year.

For the second consecutive game, Minnesota proved itself to be one-dimensional offensively against an inferior opponent.

While I don’t want to take away from the Gophers’ ability to run the football — David Cobb looked like a man among boys out there en route to a career-high 220 rushing yards — Minnesota’s presence through the air leaves something to be desired.

If the Gophers couldn’t throw against the likes of Middle Tennessee State and Eastern Illinois, don’t expect them to do so against Wisconsin or Ohio State later this year.

Quarterback Mitch Leidner went 5-for-11 on passes, good for 67 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

Add in the apparent leg injury he suffered in the fourth quarter that leaves his status for next Saturday unclear — and the fact that his backup has thrown only one pass in his entire career — and suddenly Minnesota’s offensive outlook looks bleak.

Perhaps the only good news Gophers fans received this weekend is that Minnesota won’t need to dominate offensively, because its defense is once again the X-factor.

In their first two contests, the Gophers forced six turnovers and sacked opposing  quarterbacks five times.

Saturday, Minnesota pressured the quarterback well, stuffed Middle Tennessee State’s running backs at the line for parts of the game, and its corners and safeties played tough in coverage.

The Gophers had two interceptions in the first half, including one that sophomore Jalen Myrick returned 31 yards for a touchdown.

On the Blue Raiders’ ensuing drive, senior Damien Wilson intercepted a pass himself, helping set up a 27-yard strike to tight end Maxx Williams for six points.

However, there’s no denying that the defense took a step back once the second half began.

Middle Tennessee State, especially its receivers, stepped up its physicality following the break.

Their first two plays from scrimmage went for 39 and 44 yards, resulting in a quick six for head coach Rick Stockstill’s squad.

Still, Minnesota’s mistakes remain correctable.

As Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said in his press conference, the Gophers played seven freshmen on defense.

Despite that youth, opposing offenses are averaging 22 points through two games against Minnesota, a number that actually improves upon Minnesota’s average points allowed from last year.

So as much as Gophers fans would love to pout about the offense, their defense is showing up.

Whether the offense chooses to join it is another story.