Gophers hope Owens can spark defense

The junior moved to safety before last year’s Music City Bowl.

David McCoy

In the movie “Multiplicity,” Michael Keaton plays a man who is needed in too many places at once, so he makes clones of himself to cover his bases. Maybe Gophers coach Glen Mason has seen it recently.

“I’ve been very impressed with Brandon Owens,” Mason said. “I wish I had a couple of those guys. If he was triplets, I’d take one of his brothers and put him at linebacker – probably drop – and I’d take the other one and put him at corner.”

At times, it seems Mason has tried.

Owens played in the secondary freshman year. He primarily played linebacker last year, starting the Northwestern game at drop linebacker. He even played some defensive end against Iowa. He moved to strong safety just prior to the Music City Bowl.

Asked whose idea it was to move Owens to safety, Mason hesitated, and then, laughing, took the credit.

“I don’t know,” Mason said. “It’s worked out, so yeah, it was my decision. I get blamed for everything else.”

Owens made his first start at strong safety in the season opener Sept. 1 at Tulsa, picking off a David Johnson pass and returning it 22 yards. It set up a Gophers touchdown on the last play of the first half, which gave the team a 24-3 lead and provided evidence that Owens has perhaps found a position to call home.

Owens chalked up the solid performance to his experience at the position, which he said he played all through junior leagues and high school.

“Offense to defense, I can play anything, whatever the coaches need,” Owens said. “I’m most comfortable at strong safety.”

He also recorded three tackles – two solo and one assisted. Owens’ knack for being around the ball was also notable, as he was in on the majority of plays even if not recording a tackle.

Coverage is his biggest strength, Owens said. Though big for a defensive back at 210 pounds, Owens still gets to the ball quickly.

Sometimes that isn’t quite enough to finish all the way. Several interceptions have fallen right out of Owens’ hands, including in Minnesota’s scrimmage and the game at Tulsa.

Linebacker Mike Sherels said the team poked a little fun at Owens for the drops.

“Oh, you have to,” Sherels said. “I mean, its all in good fun. He knows he made a mistake, so we’re not going to get mad at him or anything like that, because he knows what he has to do. It’s just good-natured ribbing just here and there, we’ll take a shot, but it’s all in fun.”

Though at times it seems he still has linebacker hands, Owens’ time at that position makes him that much better at his natural position, Sherels said.

“He’s a God-given talent at safety,” Sherels said. “I do feel that playing linebacker for a while did help him as far as being more physical and things like that. Once he got those tools, and with his natural ability at safety, and you combine the two, he will be a force this year.”