Tackles for loss, static running game threaten Minnesota offense

Dan Miller

A turning point came with 9:15 remaining in the third quarter in Saturday’s Minnesota football game at Michigan.

Three Wolverines defenders easily blitzed through the Gophers’ line and buried Laurence Maroney for a five-yard loss.

The No. 19 Gophers’ (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) mighty rushing attack would only gain 15 net yards the rest of the game.

“I can’t say that I felt we could shut Minnesota down, but I don’t think there is a man on this football team that did not feel our defense would play outstanding,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.

The Wolverines did what no team has been able to do this season by slowing the Gophers’ running game in the second half and holding it to 134 yards below its pregame average of 323.4 yards per game.

Carr said before the game that the Wolverines would use an eight-man front against the Gophers’ rushing game, and that’s exactly what the Gophers saw the entire game.

That strategy didn’t work as well initially. With only three players in the secondary, Maroney and Marion Barber III both broke through in the first half, going for 80-yard and 19-yard scoring runs, respectively.

Carr said he told his players at halftime that they needed to do a better job tackling, and his defensemen didn’t disappoint.

It was obvious which line was winning in each half.

On Barber’s 19-yard touchdown run with 7:32 left in the half, Minnesota’s offensive line sustained its blocks for a solid three seconds as Barber cut back behind guard Mark Setterstrom.

Because Michigan blitzed with its eight-man front, Barber had a clear path to the end zone.

In the second half, it was a completely different story.

Michigan’s defense kept its eight defenders in the box, and this time they would hardly let the Gophers’ backs reach the line of scrimmage.

Ernest Shazor, who had four tackles for loss, seemed to be in on nearly every tackle in the second half.

Special teams rebounds

Minnesota’s kicker/punter Rhys Lloyd had a near-perfect day Saturday after drawing scrutiny from coach Glen Mason last week.

Lloyd had three placekicks blocked against Penn State two weeks ago and two the week before. But this time around, his only field goal attempt was perfect on extra points and his punts helped Minnesota stay in the game.

With 12:25 left in the third quarter, Lloyd pinned the Wolverines inside their 2-yard line.

He was also able to get a punt off in the fourth quarter, resulting in a Leon Hall fumble and put the Gophers inside the Wolverines’ 10-yard line.

Missed tackles to haunt

The Gophers’ nightmares about missed tackles in the fourth quarter of last year’s Michigan game might continue.

In the Wolverines’ 87-yard winning drive that took just more than one minute, seven costly missed tackles hurt the Gophers.

With Michigan in a hurry-up offense, Minnesota failed to make the essential open field tackles.

The most blatant of the missed tackles came on the final play of the drive when Tyler Ecker took the ball 31 yards for the winning touchdown.

Brandon Owens, who had an interception in the third quarter, and Mike Wojciechowski both had shots at Ecker in the open field, but both failed to bring the tight end down.