Sid Hartman: Pass defense remains a major issue for U football

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 2, 2007 - 1:13 AM

The Gophers have struggled to defend the pass under previous coaching regimes, and it looked much the same during the losing debut of Tim Brewster.

Yes, the Gophers football team's 32-31 overtime loss to Bowling Green on Saturday might have hurt all the promotion coach Tim Brewster has done during his seven months here.

However, the defeat was a replay of the 2006 Gophers' loss to Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl, when the Red Raiders passed for 445 yards. Saturday night, Bowling Green seemed to borrow the Texas Tech game plan, as the Falcons passed for 412 yards and were so confident of completing a winning two-point conversion pass that they went for the victory rather than the tie in overtime.

The positive thing about the Gophers is that after trailing 21-0 at halftime, they did come back to take a 24-21 lead, but again, their weaknesses on pass defense, which previously existed under Jim Wacker and Glen Mason, is something Brewster must take care of. Bowling Green drove 63 yards in 12 plays for the tying field goal with three seconds left.

Let's face it. This is the same Gophers football team that allowed Texas Tech to overcome a 31-point deficit last December, because the Red Raiders passed at will. Minus a veteran quarterback in Bryan Cupito, an outstanding receiver in Logan Payne and a top tight end in Matt Spaeth, no doubt Brewster has a lot of rebuilding to do here.

Now, the Gophers face Miami (Ohio), a team that is rated much higher than Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference. Bowling Green went 4-8 last season and even lost to Temple.

One thing Brewster has the ability to do is recruit, and for those who watched Saturday, it was obvious how much quicker and faster Bowling Green was. Brewster has added some speed and must recruit more.

I still have confidence in Brewster, who personally must have known the weaknesses in this Gophers team. He hopes his efforts to build up interest pay off in the future.

But as I've said many times, it boils down to "win, baby."

Johnson happy

Quarterback Brad Johnson came to town Thursday night wearing a Dallas Cowboys uniform rather than the purple of the Vikings that he wore last year.

Johnson started but played only briefly, completing five of seven passes for 44 yards. After the Vikings' 23-14 victory, he talked about how great it was to return because of the many friends he made here.

"I'm very happy in Dallas," he said. "Obviously it was time for me to go down there with a talented team and be with a good friend of mine, a guy I respect in [offensive coordinator] Jason Garrett. Obviously I'd like to be starting, but other than that, I'm very happy."

Johnson talked about how much bigger the NFL is in Dallas than any other market.

"You don't understand it until you're there," he said. "You always hear about America's team, but it really is more. It's like the Yankees in baseball, it's like Notre Dame in college football. The Cowboys are just more, everything's just more. It's hard to explain it."

Johnson, who turns 39 on Sept. 18, said of his health: "I'm fresh and I love playing, and so I'll keep on playing until my body falls apart." About last year with the Vikings -- when he struggled and lost his starting job -- he was reluctant to comment, but he did say: "A lot of things just didn't go well for the team, and it just didn't happen for us."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Johnson: "Well, of course Brad would fit in with any place relative to competitiveness and relative to a team concept. He fits in here, and his skill level fits in here. Brad gives me the feeling that he's not going to make the bad plays."

Great job by Gardy

I might be in the minority, but I'm confident that the Pohlad family will find a way to sign center fielder Torii Hunter. One big negative is that the Twins want to limit the contract to four years, while Hunter wants a five-year deal.

Though it appears the Twins' playoff hopes were dashed after they got swept at Cleveland last week, it's amazing they were able to hang in there as long as they did given the number of injuries they've had this year, and for that reason, Ron Gardenhire should be named American League Manager of the Year. Among the pitchers, Francisco Liriano has been out the entire season, and Jesse Crain and Glen Perkins have missed most of it, while Dennys Reyes also spent time on the disabled list. Among position players, Rondell White missed 95 games, Joe Mauer sat out a month on the disabled list and now hasn't played in a week, Michael Cuddyer was on the DL as well, Luis Castillo missed some time before he was traded and Justin Morneau and Mike Redmond have been playing banged up all year.

Jottings

The Vikings lead the NFL in being $20 million under the salary cap, with Buffalo second at $18 million.

Rest assured, if Vikings owner Zygi Wilf can do anything to promote ticket sales, he will do so to avoid television blackouts. However, some 5,600 tickets remain for next week's opener against Atlanta, and there are at least as many available for the last three home games, against Chicago, Detroit and Washington.

Rick Spielman, Vikings VP of player personnel, made a great decision when, rather than having longtime team official Paul Wiggin retire, he let him work three days a week to analyze the offensive and defensive lines of opposing teams.

Former Gophers running back Gary Russell, who led the Pittsburgh Steelers with 141 rushing yards in the preseason, appears to have made the roster as an undrafted free agent.

Look for former Gophers baseball player J.T. Bruett to take over as the school's compliance director full-time. He had been serving as interim director for Frank Kara, who was battling cancer and died in July.

Royce White, the outstanding DeLaSalle basketball player, now has added Duke and North Carolina to the schools that have extended scholarship offers to him.

Betty Johnson, the 86-year-old mother of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, told the New York Times that as a teenager in Minnesota, she sat with her father, Karl Christian Wold, and listened to Gophers football games. Sometimes she would accompany her father to the games.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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