Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Gophers look to improve defense against Big Ten
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota's defensive players say they're
better than they were a year ago, which makes their struggles in
critical games all the more frustrating.
"We attack better, we're better up front, we're better in the
back and ... I don't know," defensive tackle Darrell Reid said
Tuesday. "I can't get away from this 'inconsistent' word, it keeps
As the cliche goes, the Gophers' defense is consistently
inconsistent. And it's one of the things that's costing Minnesota
its Big Ten title hopes. While the offense has no trouble scoring
points, the defense's inability to keep opponents from doing the
same is a problem.
Minnesota (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) has scored 73 points the last two
weeks against ranked Michigan and Michigan State teams -- their
opponents have combined for 82, of which 31 points came in one
quarter against the Wolverines.
"We have our lows, too many lows and that's why we've been
losing games," Reid said. "Against Michigan, we started out
strong and then we had the low right there at the end of the game.
Then against Michigan State, we started out low then came on strong
at the end of the game. We've just got to get rid of those valleys
that we've been having."
With half of the Big Ten season already gone, Minnesota -- which
fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll after Saturday's loss
to the Spartans -- is eighth in the conference in total defense.
The Gophers are tied with Northwestern for the most touchdowns
allowed in conference play with 12 -- nine of those scores have been
rushing. And they've given up 1,042 yards passing, which ranks
next-to-last to Wisconsin's 1,199.
"We sometimes have ups and downs," Gophers linebacker Kyle
McKenzie said. "I think we lose focus of what we're trying to
achieve. ... These two losses have helped us really focus."
Minnesota has yet to play a complete defensive game against a
In their first Big Ten game against Penn State, the Gophers
allowed big yardage through the air (193) and on the ground (226).
Against Northwestern, they did well against the run (76) but
allowed 208 yards passing.
The Gophers secondary was burned by the Wolverines' 389 passing
yards, which more than made up for the paltry 94 rushing yards. And
the Spartans had success at both -- 252 yards passing, 161 rushing.
"Any good defense once in a while will give up a couple of
things, and we've been giving up too much at times," Reid said.
This season's defense is doing a better job of keeping the team
in close games, but many expected better results with new defensive
coordinator Greg Hudson in charge and 10 returning starters.
When asked about the defense's improvement, coach Glen Mason
would only point to the 31 points Michigan scored against his team
in the fourth quarter.
"We couldn't stop a pass at all," he said.
The unit will have a chance to get its confidence back this
weekend when it faces an Illinois offense that ranks near the
bottom of the Big Ten. But with the conference championship quickly
slipping out of reach, the players know they can't afford to look
past Illinois' 1-7 record.
"We can go to a good bowl," McKenzie said. "We've just got to
play hard these next four games."
Andres Ybarra can be reached at aybarra(at)ap.org.