efense shuts down Kittner’s high-flying attack

Brian Stensaas

Following his postgame interview with ESPN on the Metrodome turf, Glen Mason trotted off the field into the end zone tunnel and gave a wave to the cheering student section.
The beaming smile on his face told the tale of Minnesota’s 44-10 rout of No. 24 Illinois.
For the first time all season, his team put together a solid showing and all but disposed of the “underachievers” tag he hung on them last week.
The Gophers defense, in particular, seemed to take the comment to heart.
“It’s a big attitude adjustment when your coach says you’re underachieving,” cornerback Willie Middlebrooks said. “The biggest way to have him stop saying that is to go out and beat people.”
Coming off a loss at Purdue — in which the Gophers secondary allowed quarterback Drew Brees to throw for 409 yards — Minnesota’s defense responded to Mason’s public chastising.
Illinois quarterback Kurt Kittner was stopped early and often by the Minnesota defense. Following an incomplete pass and the first of what would be six pass deflections by defensive tackle Matt Anderle, Kittner was sacked by linebacker Jimmy Henry.
Kittner threw for just 103 yards on 13 of 34 passing. Kittner also threw an interception before taking a seat on the bench in the fourth quarter.
The Illini offense didn’t bring anything fancy on Saturday. Minnesota’s defense wasn’t forced to deal with the wishbone or five receivers downfield like it was with Ohio and Purdue, respectively.
But make no mistake, Illinois is still a Big Ten football team.
“They’re a high octane offense,” Mason said. “Kittner’s a good quarterback. They’re playing with a lot of confidence and executing. We shut them down. That’s pretty darn impressive.”

Mauer makes a visit
Cretin-Derham Hall quarterback Joe Mauer, who led his team to the state title last season, made his official visit to Minnesota on Saturday.
The highly-touted senior is an early favorite for high school football player of the year. Mauer said Minnesota is one of his top choices but he also plans on visiting Arizona and Florida State.
Mauer’s plans for next year go way beyond the football field. He’s also expected to be a high first-round pick in June’s Major League Baseball amateur draft — which would mean a signing bonus of over $1 million if he chooses to play professionally.
Mauer’s plate is full of options after he graduates, and right now he said he doesn’t know which way he’s leaning.
“My parents just want me to do what I think is best,” Mauer said.

Extra points
ù Minnesota defensive tackle John Schlecht raised the school’s record for career tackles-for-loss against Illinois.
After tying Steve Neils’ team record for the category last weekend at Purdue, Schlecht had a pair of tackles-for-a-loss on Saturday. He now has 35 for his career.
ù The Gophers had three sacks on Saturday. The first was by linebacker Jimmy Henry, his first of his career.
Defensive end Karon Riley broke through with his 20th career sack, tying him with teammate Ben Mezera for second on the Gophers all-time list.
ù Sophomore Mike Lehan started in the place of Trevis Graham at cornerback, although Graham saw plently of playing time. The senior had a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
ù Linebacker Astein Osei (shoulder stingers) and receiver Antoine Burns (finger) each missed the game with injuries.
ù Kickoff duties for Minnesota were rotated against the Illini as both Dan Nystrom and Mike Albert got their kicks.
Albert had held the job by himself prior to the game and Mason said the reason for the rotation was to ensure the most qualified player kicked off.
ù After booting a career-high eight punts last week, Preston Gruening — the nations leading punter — had to attempt just one against Illinois. Mason said it was “one too many.”

— John R. Carter contributed to this story.