I wrote in today's Star Tribune about the Gophers' search for a new go-to receiver with A.J. Barker sidelined by an ankle injury. His absence was particularly damaging last week because Michigan's secondary was so aggressive, and Barker has shown an uncanny ability of shaking loose of the defense. Wolverine cornerbacks played press coverage on Saturday, jamming the Gophers' receivers on the line of scrimmage in order to disrupt their timing by preventing them from running their routes right away, and giving the defensive line more opportunity to reach the quarterback.
"If you can play press corner, you cut down what the (offense's) route system can be," said Gophers coach Jerry Kill. "Unless you're a five-step (or) seven-step-drop team, which we can't be right now with our young offensive line, it makes you run a fade or a slant or maybe a stop route," passes that are thrown before the receiver gets open.
That sort of aggressive defense takes size, agility and a willingness to get physical, traits that have given Michigan the Big Ten's best pass defense. It wore on the Gophers, who, with Barker watching from the sideline, managed only 147 yards through the air, with quarterback Philip Nelson completing only 13 of 29 passes.
So how, Kill was asked on Tuesday, can a receiving corps deal with the press?
"You've got to be able to have quick hands, and you've got to knock (the defenders') hands down, get their hands off you so they can't hold you," Kill explained. "You've got to be strong. You've got to be physically strong."