Patrick Reusse: U defense shows effort, but results don't follow

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2011 - 1:13 AM

The Gophers' continued ineptitude on offense resulted in another blowout loss.

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The Gophers defense played well at times in spite of the final score. Here Gophers defender Kyle Henderson (14) broke up a first-half pass in the end zone intended for Nebraska receiver Quincy Enunwa.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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The Gophers lost 28-17 at Purdue in their seventh game of 2010. The loss put them at 1-6. They were 0-3 in the Big Ten, outscored vs. Northwestern, Wisconsin and Purdue by a combined 98-68.

Coach Tim Brewster was fired the next day with five games remaining in his fourth season.

Saturday, the Gophers lost 41-14 to Nebraska in their seventh game of 2011. The loss put them at 1-6. They are 0-3 in the Big Ten, outscored vs. Michigan, Purdue and Nebraska by a combined 144-31.

There is a discrepancy in the Big Ten portion in the schedule, yet it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest the signs of improved coaching -- with Jerry Kill's loyal staff compared to Brewster's chaotic collection -- have been minimal.

What's remarkable is that, with two weeks to get ready, Kill and Co. seemed to have this porous collection of defenders ready for an energetic effort.

Unfortunately, there were so many dunderheaded plays from the home team that effort mattered not.

"In the first quarter, we played really hard on defense,'' Kill said. "We had a bad break in a critical situation. That was a critical play mentally, and our kids didn't come back from that.''

The hard play on defense showed on Nebraska's first possession, when the Huskers reached the 4 and wound up kicking a field goal.

That effort continued on the second possession, when on fourth-and-1 the Gophers defended a Taylor Martinez pitch and the ball bounced off reserve back Aaron Green. The ball caromed out of bounds several yards forward and was deemed a "muff,'' not a fumble, and Nebraska had a first down at the Gophers 11.

And then the Gophers did what losing teams always do: felt sorry for themselves.

First, the Gophers neglected to cover fullback Tyler Legate, and he walked into the end zone with a pass from Martinez. Then, they went hell-bent after Martinez on the first play of the next possession, and receiver Kenny Bell went 82 yards on a reverse for another touchdown.

It was 17-0 with 15 seconds gone in the second quarter, and the 20,000 fans wearing red in attendance for the Gophers' homecoming were comfortable in the knowledge that a 21-year gap in the Minnesota-Nebraska rivalry had not changed a thing.

The score was 34-0 at halftime Saturday, and at that moment Nebraska had scored 145 consecutive points vs. Minnesota. The Gophers' previous score had been Rickey Foggie's 63-yard pass to Valdez Baylor on the first play of the fourth quarter in 1984 -- a 38-7 loss in Lincoln.

It took a double-reverse, flea-flicker pass from MarQueis Gray to Da'Jon McKnight for 53 yards to finally set up a Gophers touchdown in the middle of the third quarter.

Gray picked up a fumbled snap and ran it in for the score. That ended the Gophers' scoreless streak vs. Nebraska at 173 minutes, 7 seconds, or at 27 years, whichever Big Red Nation prefers.

As usual, the Gophers put on quite an aerial display before the trick play. Gray was 2-for-8 for 9 yards at halftime. Kill was asked how a team can expect to compete in big-time football with one dimension on offense.

"I don't think we're that one-dimensional,'' he said. "It's not that we want to pass for 9 yards in a half. What we need to do is keep getting better -- MarQueis passing the ball, our receivers catching it, and with our protection.

"Some teams can win by throwing for 9 yards in a half. Ohio State beat Illinois, and I think it completed one pass for 4 yards. I don't think we're one of the teams that can do that. You know that, and so do I.''

What nobody knew going into this season was that it could be this difficult for Gray to throw an accurate pass. Nebraska's Martinez has about the worst delivery you could find in a BCS-level quarterback, and yet he's Peyton Manning in comparison to MarQueis.

Trouble is, freshman Max Shortell is such an inviting target as a 6-5 statue that the Gophers are stuck with Gray and no passing attack.

Kill's defense tried Saturday, it really tried. But in the end, the yards allowed were 515, as the burden of fighting off the Huskers' hard-nosed attack and trying to lug around the Gophers offense was too much to avoid a third Big Ten blowout in a row.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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