Gophers' defensive collapse a stunning setback for team

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 12, 2010 - 9:44 AM

Coach Tim Brewster didn't hold back his disappointment after losing to South Dakota.

Coach Tim Brewster probably has never had a more disappointing loss in his coaching career than the Gophers' 41-38 loss to a South Dakota team that a week ago lost 38-7 to an ordinary Central Florida team (which lost 28-21 to North Carolina State on Saturday).

This was an unexpected defeat after the Gophers went down to Middle Tennessee and won last week.

Looking back on Brewster's three years, plus two games, I don't believe a team coached by him ever played as pathetically on defense as the Gophers did on Saturday. If they play like that against Southern California next week, the Trojans will run up a record score.

Brewster didn't pull any punches after the game when he took the blame for a horrible defensive performance in which the Gophers gave up 444 total yards. Yes, it was that bad.

"As I just told the team, the depth of my disappointment right now -- you cannot measure it," Brewster said. "I do not want to discredit South Dakota in any way. I want to make sure we give them the proper credit, but it certainly is an unacceptable loss on our part by our team. We make no excuses. We point no fingers. I just did not get the job done with our team and having them prepared to go into the game today against South Dakota. Again, it is a great disappointment, obviously. We did not play well on the defensive side of the ball. We had opportunities to score a lot more points on the offensive side of the ball, and should have."

What was hard to figure out is why a young quarterback named Dante Warren, in only his second start, could complete 21 of 30 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns and run 10 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns, when he was shut down in his first game by a team in Central Florida that might not be any better than the Gophers.

A week ago, in that 38-7 loss to the Knights, Warren rushed just four times, losing a yard, and completed 10 of 19 passes for only 104 yards and zero touchdowns. South Dakota had 220 yards in total offense in that loss, half of what it had against the Gophers.

Yes, nobody expected this result, certainly not Brewster and the assistant coaches, who were very satisfied with the performance against Middle Tennessee State where the Gophers controlled the ball for 49 minutes, including the last 13 minutes, and gave the offense a chance to perform.

Brewster made it clear he was especially disappointed with the defense that allowed South Dakota to score six of the 11 times it had the ball.

"We can talk about the fact we have young guys on the defensive side and we have inexperienced guys, but there is no excuse to have a defensive performance like we had today," said Brewster.

Well, even though a lot of the players on the Gophers defense on Saturday played quite a bit last year, it was obvious that they aren't close to the 2009 defense of Nate Triplett and company.

The only good news about the defense is two experienced players will be in the lineup next week: Kim Royston, who was on the injured list, and Kyle Theret, who was suspended for the first two games. Maybe they can help.

I might add that I was 100 percent wrong about this team. I thought it had a chance to be pretty good. But it does have 10 more games on the schedule to show something.

Not as strong

A year ago, the Vikings faced Cleveland and Detroit in the first two games and won 34-20 and 27-13. Then they got lucky and beat the 49ers 27-24 on the last spectacular play of the game.

They didn't know at the time that later in the season Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice would develop into two of the best wide receivers in the league and that quarterback Brett Favre, among others, would improve as the season went along.

This year it was a lot different when they faced a much stronger opener in the Saints, with nothing close to the personnel they had when they lost 31-27 to the Super Bowl champions a year ago.

Along that line, Vikings coach Brad Childress was asked if the offense has been hurt because of the missing players in training camp.

"I think I have said this," said Childress. "There's no way we're up to the warp speed of an 18th game of the season. With all of those reps revolved and of those guys, you guys [the media] have kind of laughed about the work in progress or work in flux. It's a work on progress, It's from a number of different spots. Just getting your center [John Sullivan] back, your wideouts, your quarterback -- we need to get up to speed in a hurry. I believe we will. That offense [against the Saints] didn't approximate where we were at the end of last year."

And don't forget the team doesn't have running back Chester Taylor, a great protector of the quarterback, and also was minus backup offensive tackle Artis Hicks, who signed with the Redskins. When Bryant McKinnie got hurt Thursday, the team didn't have an experienced Hicks to move into the offensive line. Instead the Vikings had to bring in Ryan Cook, who seldom has played tackle, to replace Phil Loadholt at right tackle and moved Loadholt to McKinnie's spot.

And regarding Sullivan, you can rest assured he wasn't 80 percent himself because he hasn't been able to work out and get into normal condition because of his quad problem.

So as you look back, this team might have hit its peak last year and there is some question whether it can regain the form of 2009 with the different players missing and the different problems regarding the physical condition of some of the top personnel.

Jottings

Speaking of NFL leases, the Saints pay no rent at the Superdome, receive all revenues from the games, receive $12 million each year from the state of Louisiana and also received $305 million in improvements to the stadium. In 2009, the Vikings paid $6,125,145 in rent during the regular season, plus $737,282 for the playoffs. They are budgeted in 2010 to pay $7,335,920, plus any playoff rent. Currently, the Vikings' payroll is $130 million, one of the highest in the NFL.

Childress sang the praises of the job punter Chris Kluwe did in the game by putting the special teams in perfect position to cover. ... Three ex-Gophers made the practice squads of NFL teams. They are: defensive back Traye Simmons with San Diego and receiver Logan Payne and defensive back Marcus Sherels with the Vikings.

Former Caledonia high school standout Karl Klug is starting at defensive line for the Iowa Hawkeyes again this year and tied for the team high with six tackles in the Hawkeyes' 37-7 victory over Eastern Illinois last Saturday. He was an honorable-mention all-Big Ten defensive lineman in 2009.

Former Twins catcher Matt Walbeck was named the Eastern League manager of the year this week. Walbeck led the Altoona Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates' Class AA affiliate, to a first-place finish in the Western Division with a 81-59 record.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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