Defense shows signs of improvement against Buckeyes offense

Minnesota gave up a season-low 209 yards in the game. It has averaged 407.8.

Luke Middendorf

With a rough start to the 2007 season for Minnesota, it has been tough to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

But even with the 30-7 loss to Ohio State (5-0 overall, 2-0 Big Ten), Minnesota (1-4 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) and its fans were able to see a glimpse of that light with a solid showing against the No. 8 team in the country, and also having some top-notch recruits in the stands.

Coach Tim Brewster was quoted earlier this week saying that no one was giving his Gophers a “snowball’s chance in hell” to play with the high-powered and two-time defending Big Ten Champion Buckeyes.

Critics might have had a right to say that, after Minnesota had spotted their oppositions 21 points in each of their three losses this year. But going into halftime on Saturday, the Gophers were only down by 13.

Six points is not a mind-blowing improvement, but it is a start for this young Minnesota team, especially when you factor in that they faced a team of Ohio State’s caliber.

“We went toe-to-toe with the eighth-ranked team in the country,” Brewster said. “I told our kids in the locker room that they should feel proud of their effort.”

Another improvement in the first half was in the Gophers’ secondary. Giving up 127 yards through the air in the first half of a game is something that Minnesota had not been able to do this year, but Saturday the often-scrutinized secondary held up relatively well to the Buckeyes’ passing attack.

The Gophers gave up a total of 209 passing yards, by far the least given up this season, as they have averaged 407.8 yards coming into the game.

Another possible improvement in the secondary happened before the game even started, as six defensive-back recruits were in attendance for the Gopher Victory Walk.

Among the highly touted recruits was Rivals.com ranked three-star safety Keanon Cooper from Skyline High School in Dallas, Tex. The Gophers also invited three other defensive recruits from Skyline to Minnesota that all could improve the Gophers as early as next season.

Another big recruit to come to campus Saturday was literally a “big recruit,” in 338-pound defensive lineman Jewhan Edwards from Philadelphia. Edwards is noted for getting off the ball quickly and his ability to bench press 185 pounds 29 times.

Although defensive recruiting might be their focus, Minnesota also brought in for an official visit four star dual-threat quarterback MarQueis Gray from Indianapolis. Gray is ranked third-best at his position in the nation according to Rivals.com.

The Gophers’ offense provided little to cheer about in the second half, as was easily seen in the quiet and scarce Minnesota student section.

Much of the lack of offense could have been due to the fact that Ohio State came into Saturday leading the Big Ten in scoring defense at 7.2 points per game, while also ranking second in the nation in total defense by giving up just 177.75 yards per game.

“They’re fast, they’re strong, and they all attack the ball,” senior receiver Ernie Wheelwright said. “That’s what you want in a defense.”

But Minnesota also had its fair share of opportunities to make the game closer than it was, most notably after a fumble recovery by senior linebacker John Shevlin on the Buckeyes 7-yard line of that the Gophers could not punch into the end zone even on four tries.

Coach Brewster looked at that series of events in a positive light.

“It was great to see the defense get a turnover at the end of the game,” Brewster said.

An improvement can be seen in the situation though, as the Minnesota defense forced Ohio State to punt after receiving the ball on the Gophers’ failed fourth-down conversion.

From a broad view, a 30-7 loss does not look good in any way. But in the midst of a 1-4 start, looking at little things for Minnesota means a lot.

“You hate to say there are any moral victories, but we’re doing pretty well,” freshman quarterback Adam Weber said. “If you look at the season as a whole, we’re coming along. But it’s hard to find anything good when you lose.