Unheralded defense cages Bobcats in shutout

It didn’t take long for true freshman nose tackle Scott Stephenson to get acclimated to the Minnesota Gophers’ defensive scheme Saturday night at the Metrodome.

In a mere three seconds, the former Cretin-Derham Hall standout proved coach Glen Mason made the correct decision in giving him the start. On Southwest Texas State’s first offensive play from scrimmage — and Stephenson’s first as a college athlete — the 18-year-old lunged his 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame through the Bobcats’ offensive line and tracked down quarterback Cody McCauley for a 10-yard loss.

One play, one sack, and one impressive defensive start to what would become a 42-0 shutout victory, Minnesota’s first since blanking Louisiana-Monroe 35-0 on Sept. 11, 1999.

“A lot of our guys were baptized into college football tonight,” Southwest Texas State coach Bob DeBesse said. “It was big time football — probably the best we’ll see all year.”

Stephenson was not available for comment following the game. Minnesota’s onslaught on the Bobcats’ religious experience was pure blasphemy. The Gophers held a severely under matched Division 1-AA Southwest Texas State team to 54 yards passing, a number eclipsed by Minnesota three quarters of its way through the first play from scrimmage on a 75-yard Ben Utecht touchdown. The groundwork by the Bobcats wasn’t much better, settling for only 75 yards.

In addition to his sack, Stephenson also recovered a fumble while the team went on to sack McCauley on three more occasions. Mason was able to rotate in a plethora of players in the game with a total of 21 defenders recording at least one tackle. Many of those gained the experience needed for the remainder of the season.

Not too shabby for a defensive corps still tabbed by its head coach as a question mark.

“Our defense is a total unknown still,” Mason said. “We’re not very big, we’re not an impressive lot when we take the field. But I thought we started attacking on defense and ran around and played physical.

“We’ve got to take it where we are. It’s all about improvement. We’re going to have to play better.”

The strong stance comes in the first game of the season, the initial chance to prove whether or not last season’s unimpressive 4-7 season was a fluke.

It’s no secret the Gophers next 11 opponents are much stronger than the Bobcats. The remaining non-conference schedule includes a home tilt with Toledo, which embarrassed the Gophers 38-7 in last season’s opener en route to a Motor City Bowl win.

Minnesota allowed 512 total yards of offense to the Rockets, including a whopping 363 on the ground — a season worst for the Gophers. It goes without saying this season’s defensive debut was much more pleasing, even if to a low-caliber foe.

“A win is a win but we have a ways to go,” said junior linebacker Ben West, who led the team with 10 tackles against Southwest Texas State. “(The Bobcats) are a good team, but there’s much better out there. We have to get better every week and come out with just as much intensity as we did (Saturday).”

Brian Stensaas covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]