Madison, Wis. – After a three-week audition in which the defense did a 180-degree turn, Joe Rossi was promoted to Gophers defensive coordinator by coach P.J. Fleck after Saturday’s 37-15 victory over Wisconsin.
Rossi was named interim defensive coordinator after Fleck fired Robb Smith following the 55-31 loss at Illinois on Nov. 3, and the defense responded. The Gophers gave up an average of 43.2 points and 507.7 yards in the six Big Ten games under Smith. When Rossi took over, the Gophers gave up 233 yards in a 41-10 victory over Purdue, 325 in a 24-14 loss to Northwestern and 359 to Wisconsin.
“When I told our team what we were doing [in the locker room after the game], they went absolutely ballistic,’’ Fleck said of Rossi’s promotion. “... He deserved it. This isn’t a gift. He earned it.’’
That showed Saturday, as the Gophers held Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor, the nation’s leading rusher, to 120 yards on 19 carries, nearly 50 yards less than his average. They also intercepted Alex Hornibrook three times and recovered one of the Badgers’ four fumbles.
“I felt we had to get back to the basic part of what we do, and then expand from there,’’ Fleck said. “Joe does a really good job of that. … He basically did a whole year self-scout within a week when we went into the Purdue game.’’
Added Gophers linebacker Thomas Barber: “We love that guy. We’re all excited for him.’’
Which bowl will it be?
We now know that the Gophers will play in a bowl game. Question is, which one?
The four most likely in play are the Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 27, New York), Redbox Bowl (Dec. 31, Santa Clara, Calif.), Quick Lane Bowl (Dec. 26, Detroit) and First Responders Bowl (Dec. 26, Dallas). The Gophers’ destination likely won’t be known until next Sunday after the College Football Playoff selection.
Among three bowl representatives at Saturday’s game was John Mosley, senior manager of the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. He said he was there to watch both teams but declined further comment. Citrus and Holiday representatives were scouting Wisconsin.
Rallying for Cashman
The Gophers had to play without leading tackler Blake Cashman for most of the game after the linebacker was ejected for targeting early in the second quarter.
The Gophers punted from their 5-yard line, and Cashman delivered a hard hit to Jack Dunn just as he caught the ball.
“The entire season you’ve seen Blake Cashman play with the most amount of energy and passion I’ve ever seen,’’ rush end Carter Coughlin said. “Blake goes out, and it quickly switches to, ‘We’re doing this for Blake.’ ’’
Julian Huff took Cashman’s place and finished with four tackles and an interception.
• Gophers defensive tackle O.J. Smith returned after missing six games because of a concussion. He finished with three tackles. Defensive back Terell Smith returned after missing last week because of a leg injury. He also had three tackles.
• The Badgers saw a 10-game winning streak in trophy games end. They play the Gophers for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, Iowa for the Heartland Trophy and Nebraska for the Freedom Trophy.