Takeaways not translating to tallies

In their last two games, the Gophers turned six takeaways into just six points.

by Ben Goessling

Tempting as it might be to place all the blame for Minnesota’s football team’s two-game skid on the defense; Gophers coach Glen Mason won’t do it.

Not when six takeaways over the last two games have resulted in six points and four front-row seats to watch the Gophers offense hand the ball right back.

About the only thing Minnesota’s defense has going for it right now is the fact it has posted just two fewer takeaways through seven games than it did all of last year.

It’s the favorite survival tactic of bend-but-don’t-break defenses. But with a Gophers offense that suddenly can’t seize opportunities, Minnesota’s defense has been left for dead.

“We have not enjoyed good field position on offense, and Saturday we did because of some turnovers on defense,” Mason said. “But we didn’t capitalize on that.”

On four of its six possessions after takeaways against Michigan State and Michigan the last two games, Minnesota has either punted or given the ball back on downs.

The Gophers have kicked just two field goals off turnovers, and haven’t driven farther than 22 yards.

And they blew a chance to put Michigan away two weekends ago when they couldn’t punch in a touchdown after recovering a fumbled punt on the Wolverines’ 9-yard line.

“We’re getting chances, but we’re just not hitting them,” quarterback Bryan Cupito said.

For its part, the Gophers defense has benefited from an increased focus on turnovers by defensive coordinator Greg Hudson.

Minnesota has already intercepted 11 passes – as many as it picked off in 2003. Cornerback Ukee Dozier said the Gophers are doing a better job of recognizing routes and heading off passes than last year.

“Everyone is getting in and watching more film than in the past,” he said. “That’s something that’s been helping, and preparation during the week has put us in position to make those plays.”

But not only has Minnesota’s offense struggled to do anything with the turnovers, it’s had a hard time even giving the defense a rest.

The Gophers haven’t put together a drive of longer than 3:36 in either of their two losses, leaving the defense on the field for 94 plays against Michigan and 84 against Michigan State.

Minnesota has controlled the ball for only a combined 45:03 of 120 minutes in its last two games.

And even with a sudden abundance of turnovers, the Gophers are right back where they were last year: Trying to right the ship after a pair of damaging losses.

“I remember at the end of last year, I told you guys, the one thing that didn’t coincide with a 10-3 football team was our turnover ratio,” Mason said. “Now you look at us, and we’re pretty darn good in that turnover margin, but it’s not having as significant a role as it should.”

Extra points

ï Junior guard Mike Nicholson is listed ahead of normal starter Brandon Harston on this week’s depth chart.

Harston, who left the game against Michigan because of an injured foot, did not play Saturday against Michigan State.

ï Running back Laurence Maroney, who left Saturday’s game briefly with an injury to his right hand, is practicing with a bandage but should be available for Saturday’s game with Illinois.

ï Minnesota’s game Oct. 30 at Indiana will be at 1 p.m. CDT. It will not be televised.