Energy and depth spark Gophers defensive pressure

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 15, 2012 - 6:55 AM

The Gophers defense has allowed exactly half as many rushing yards as its offense has gained.

The improvement in the Gophers' defensive pressure is caused by a lot of factors, the architect of that defense believes, stuff like better depth and weight-room discipline and better playbook comprehension.

But really, Tracy Claeys said, it mostly boils down to basic human nature.

"Eventually," the Gophers defensive coordinator says, "you get tired of getting your butt kicked."

The Gophers must have been exhausted.

It's a phenomenon Claeys has witnessed in previous stops on Jerry Kill's staff, and one that finally materialized, the coach said, during red-zone drills in spring camp. Coaches would put the football on the 5-yard line and issue a challenge: Score, and the defense does extra sprints. Hold, and the offense runs. "There's a winner and a loser in everything," Claeys said, "and eventually, you have to decide whether you're going to compete."

The defense did, and the defense has so far this year, and that improvement is largely responsible for the 2-0 record that the Gophers will put on the line Saturday against Western Michigan. The Gophers defense has allowed exactly half as many rushing yards as its offense has gained, allowed quarterbacks to complete only half their passes, and surrendered only one touchdown in regulation time in each of the first two games.

"We're definitely better this year," said sophomore end Michael Amaefula, one of eight defensive linemen who rotate in and out during the game. "On film, we can see a great push. We're moving people back 2 or 3 yards. And we're getting hits on quarterbacks when they use three-step drops, which usually doesn't happen much. But we're getting into the backfield to make those plays."

As everyone around the Gophers is quick to acknowledge, however, the defense's success has come against UNLV and New Hampshire, likely the two least talented teams on Minnesota's schedule, both of which used underclassmen at quarterback.

Western Michigan, by contrast, trusts senior Alex Carder to operate an up-tempo, multiformation attack that rolled up 631 yards against FCS-level Eastern Illinois one week ago.

In other words, study hall is over. It's time to take the test.

"Every time we take a job, we preach belief-without-evidence -- 'Believe that you're going to be good,' " Claeys said. "But hell, pretty soon you've got to see some evidence."

The evidence says the defense's improvement starts with the front four -- mostly because, on the Gophers, it's a front eight. Claeys and Kill are believers in a hockey-style approach to the pass rush, that using several players on short shifts is more effective than asking a 275-pound lineman to crash into the line for three hours.

"It's definitely working. It keeps our legs fresh," Amaefula said. "You go really hard for three, four, five plays, and the next guy comes in with the same mentality. After a few series, we can feel how much more energy we have than the offensive line, and we're getting into the backfield."

The Gophers didn't have enough depth and experience to rotate pass-rushers last year, Claeys said, but the improvement of sophomores Amaefula and Ben Perry, plus the surprising impact of true freshman Scott Ekpe, has made it possible.

Then there is the emergence of starting tackles Cameron Botticelli and Ra'Shede Hageman, 300-pounders who are commanding double-teams inside, which in turn allow the ends more room.

"Every [lineman] who comes after me," Hageman said, "opens a hole up for someone else."

Those holes have produced six sacks; the Gophers had just 19 all of last year.

With Western Michigan's Broncos averaging 45 passes per game, Hageman expects the Gophers's beefed-up line to add to that total Saturday. "Seeing how many times [Carder] throws the ball," Hageman said, "I'm excited to play them."

Excitement on the defensive line? For the Gophers, that's something new.

  • GOPHERS VS. WESTERN MICHIGAN • 11 a.m. today • TCF Bank Stadium • TV: Big Ten Network (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets 8 FINAL
Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 FINAL
Minnesota 3
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 105
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Orlando 100
Cleveland 120 FINAL
Toronto 112
Utah 84 FINAL
Boston 85
Charlotte 115 FINAL
Brooklyn 91
Denver 100 FINAL
Minnesota 85
Detroit 85 FINAL
New Orleans 88
LA Lakers 94 FINAL
Miami 100
Philadelphia 118 FINAL
Oklahoma City 123
Memphis 102 FINAL
Houston 100
Sacramento 85 FINAL
San Antonio 112
Milwaukee 60 3rd Qtr 8:11
Golden State 56
Portland 51 3rd Qtr 7:09
LA Clippers 58
Ottawa 3 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
NY Rangers 1 FINAL(OT)
Detroit 2
Pittsburgh 0 3rd Prd 17:50
Colorado 2
Montreal 0 3rd Prd
Anaheim 2
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 66 FINAL
Albany 83
Duquesne 81 FINAL
Fordham 66
George Washington 67 FINAL
George Mason 51
Tennessee 78 FINAL
LSU 63
Notre Dame 71 FINAL
Louisville 59
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Morehead State 79
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Mount St Marys 58
Hartford 63 FINAL
New Hampshire 67
Wagner 68 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Long Island 70 FINAL
St Francis-NY 79
La Salle 50 FINAL
Saint Josephs 55
Providence 79 FINAL
Seton Hall 66
UCF 45 FINAL
South Florida 74
Binghamton 57 FINAL
Stony Brook 62
UMBC 39 FINAL
Vermont 66
Sacred Heart 85 FINAL
Bryant 91
Richmond 56 FINAL
Massachusetts 53
Wake Forest 51 FINAL
Duke 94
Purdue 66 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Miami-Florida 67 FINAL
Pittsburgh 63
St Bonaventure 64 FINAL
Saint Louis 48
New Mexico St 69 FINAL
TX-Pan American 48
Houston 68 FINAL
Tulane 63
Howard 62 FINAL
NJIT 71
TCU 70 FINAL
Oklahoma State 82
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
Tulsa 47
USC 74 FINAL
UCLA 85
Miss State 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Utah State 53 FINAL
Wyoming 76
St Johns 67 FINAL
Marquette 51
SIU Edwardsville 66 FINAL
Eastern Ill 78
Air Force 66 FINAL
Fresno State 68
Nebraska 50 2nd Half 1:35
Illinois 59
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Nevada 62
Boise State 68 2nd Half 2:21
San Jose St 44
San Diego St 28 2nd Half
UNLV 31
Oregon 32 2nd Half
Oregon State 32
UC Santa Barbara 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Davidson 63 FINAL
La Salle 74
Loyola-Maryland 46 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Boston U 48 FINAL
Colgate 58
Coll of Charleston 58 FINAL
James Madison 107
Delaware 76 FINAL
Elon 77
Drexel 58 FINAL
Northeastern 42
Hofstra 75 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 76
Towson 56 FINAL
William & Mary 68
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Akron 67
Ball State 85 FINAL
Central Michigan 69
Buffalo 55 FINAL
Bowling Green 47
Western Mich 65 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 74
Ohio U 69 FINAL
Kent State 56
Youngstown St 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 73
Illinois-Chicago 54 FINAL
Wright State 74
Alabama 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Detroit 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 56
Purdue 58 FINAL
Wisconsin 56
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close