The Gophers are banged up on defense, especially in the secondary, and this is catching up to them. Through six games last year, they had the Big Ten’s second-ranked pass defense, allowing 162.5 yards per game. This year, they rank 10th in that category at 255.5 yards per game.
Part of it has been the lack of a pass rush. Even with NFL prospect Ra’Shede Hageman at defensive tackle, the Gophers have managed only seven sacks, compared to 11 at this time last year.
The bye week came at a key time for the secondary. Safeties Cedric Thompson (concussion symptoms) and Brock Vereen (knee), and cornerbacks Martez Shabazz (shoulder) and Derrick Wells (shoulder) will get an extra week to heal.
They’ll need it because the next three opponents — Northwestern, Nebraska and Indiana — rank among the Big Ten’s top four teams in scoring offense.
Special teams, etc.
Kill often says a team needs to win two of three facets — offense, defense or special teams — to be successful. The Gophers have been good on special teams this year, with return man Marcus Jones becoming a difference-maker.
The Gophers are the least-penalized team in the Big Ten and they have only seven turnovers this year, compared to 12 last year.
Kill’s recruiting classes have ranked toward the bottom of the conference, but this coaching staff can cite several players — including Leidner, Wells, Thompson, defensive end Theiren Cockran and cornerback Eric Murray — who’ve outperformed their rankings.
Tim Brewster’s program lost scholarships because of academics. Under Kill, the team has posted its best Academic Progress Rate (994 for the 2011-12 school year) in the program’s history.
Those close to the program can see the foundation improving. But it’ll be hard selling that to the public if the Gophers go 0-6 or 1-5 in their last six games.
Joe Christensen • firstname.lastname@example.org