Hartman: Gophers must tighten up their pass defense

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2013 - 12:24 AM
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Gophers defensive end Michael Amaefula brought down New Mexico State’s Germi Morrison during the first half Saturday night. The Gophers defense had some trouble in the second half stopping the Aggies passing game.

Photo: Shari Vialpando-Hill • Special to the Star Tribune,

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Knowing Jerry Kill, he likely arrived with the Gophers football team about 3 a.m. Sunday morning and immediately headed for his office at the Bierman Building, where after viewing the film of a 44-21 victory at New Mexico State, he found a lot of things he wasn’t happy about despite the one-sided score, especially in the Gophers pass defense.

There were some good things. Marcus Jones returned a punt 65 yards to give the Gophers three special teams touchdowns where they didn’t have any a season ago.

Running back Roderick Williams had 16 carries for 148 rushing yards, and to his credit he did a lot of good things. Quarterback Philip Nelson ran 15 times for 122 yard, but he also made a big mistake in throwing an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter when the Aggies were still in the game.

If the Gophers defense hadn’t made a crucial stop of the home team on fourth-and-1 at the Gophers 10 on that following Aggies drive, the result could have been different, considering the success New Mexico State was having in its passing game. In the second half, the Gophers had no defense against either Andrew McDonald or King Davis III.

Fortunately, the Gophers put together an eight-play, 90-yard touchdown drive after the critical defensive stop, and the game was put on ice.

The Gophers are very young in the secondary, and in both victories there has been little pass rush. That part of the game has to improve if the Gophers are going to have a good year.

But any time you win a game on the road while playing in temperatures near 100 degrees, you have accomplished something.

Robison looks for productive season

With another Vikings season rolling around, the team is preparing for what could be the final year for some of their defensive stalwarts. Brian Robison, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams all can become free agents next offseason.

Robison, entering his seventh season with the organization, has the best chance of the trio of remaining with the Vikings.

This year, the 2007 fourth-round pick out of Texas is looking to build on back-to-back seasons of tremendous improvement. Still he believes this season could be his best.

“[Last year] I had the elbow injury early in the year and later in the year I had the shoulder injury that I dealt with, but I’m over it now,” he said. “The first two games [of last season], the way I played, I felt that I was onto something. Then to go out and hurt the elbow late in Game 2, like I did, that really bothered me for a few weeks. Then towards the end obviously the shoulder was really a big issue for me. This year, I’m just looking forward to hopefully having an injury-free season and being able to show what I can really do.”

Did Robison believe his playing ability was hampered by the injuries? “I believe so. I believe that any time you’re not 100 percent that you can’t totally play up to the way you feel.”

He said his shoulder didn’t require any surgery, and after resting his injuries he was able to get into the weight room quicker than expected, which he believes has set him up for a great start to the year.

After this year, though, things are a bit more cloudy. Five defensive linemen — Robison, Allen, Williams, Everson Griffen and Fred Evans — can become free agents. He was asked if that’s something that stays on his mind.

“Obviously we all want to stay here,” he said, “But we know that the likelihood of the situation, that that is probably not going to happen. But the bottom line is we’re not worried about that right now. We’re worried about winning ballgames in 2013. We’ll let everything take care of itself after that.”

Robison said he believes the Vikings have a chance to improve defensively, and if the run game and the defense can be as stout as last season, this year could be even better than last year’s 10-6 finish. But he also said that the first two games of the season — at Detroit and at Chicago — will play a key role.

“That [start] is real tough, especially going into Detroit and into Chicago, where we haven’t won there in a while,” he said. “The bottom line is we have to get it done. There’s no excuses for anything. We have two road games in the division to start off the season and we have to try and make sure that we come out 2-0.”

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