EVANSTON, ILL. – It had been several years since Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys coached a game from the sideline.
But with Jerry Kill taking a leave to treat his epilepsy, Claeys felt it was important to leave the booth, so he could handle his duties as acting head coach Saturday at Northwestern.
Claeys continued calling the defensive plays, and he knew one challenge would be avoiding the impulse to try to correct things as they happened.
“I messed up one time, the timeout we took right there [with 11:22 remaining] in the fourth quarter,” Claeys said. “I let myself get involved in the result of the play before and was talking to somebody, and I looked up and all of a sudden they’re ready to snap the ball.
“But besides that timeout, I thought I did a pretty good job of staying focused, and it is fun. You’re down there around the kids. There are so many TV timeouts, you’ve got time to tell the kids keep going.
“They had a great attitude today. That’s one thing I never know in the box, how their attitude is. And even when things didn’t go our way, you could see it in their eyes. They were ready to battle.”
A memorable start
David Cobb got his first career start at tailback and led the Gophers with 20 carries for 103 yards. It was the second 100-yard rushing effort of the season for Cobb, who had 125 yards against San Jose State.
Cobb managed only 9 yards on his four first-quarter carries, but he averaged 5.9 yards on his final 16 carries of the game. Claeys credited him for making an adjustment and starting to run “downhill.”
“You’re not going to score on every run,” Claeys said. “Sometimes kids get greedy. You’ve got to understand 5 to 7 yards is a pretty good run and accept it and go back to the huddle.
“But I think David was trying to bounce around too much and break too many long ones rather than taking what the defense is giving him.”
Brock Vereen started at cornerback after starting the first six games at safety, replacing Derrick Wells, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury. Wells played eventually but missed a few tackles.
The Gophers started sophomores Antonio Johnson and Damarius Travis at safety. Junior Cedric Thompson began the game on the bench and missed two key tackles on Northwestern’s first TD drive.
• Senior left tackle Ed Olson saw his first action since the season opener against UNLV. Ben Lauer started at left tackle, but Olson was in for several series.
• After getting held to one sack in their previous three games, the Gophers notched three on Saturday, matching their season high set from the Western Illinois game on Sept. 14.
• The Gophers were the least-penalized team in the Big Ten entering Saturday, but they committed nine penalties for 89 yards, both season highs.
• The Gophers used Derrick Engel for punt returns, instead of Marcus Jones. Engel’s first two punt returns of the season totaled 10 yards.