Hartman: Gophers confidence is high ahead of big game with Badgers

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 22, 2013 - 6:33 AM

Defensive back Brock Vereen stands by his statement that the Gophers can play for the Big Ten title.

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Minnesota Gophers vs. Western Illinois Leathernecks football. Gophers receiver Maxx Williams picked up extra yards after a first half reception. (MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE(mlevison@startribune.com)

One thing Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen and his teammates don’t lack is confidence since they chalked up four consecutive Big Ten victories, and that includes their belief in the team’s chance of upsetting a great Wisconsin team on Saturday.

Vereen early this season said the Gophers could win their division, and he hasn’t backed down from that statement.

Vereen was asked if he still thinks the Gophers can make the Big Ten Championship Game.

“Definitely,” said the senior from California. “We had two rough games early with Michigan and Iowa, but we have definitely bounced back, and it’s still a possibility. We’re rolling right now, and we definitely have the talent to do it. We just have to keep it up.”

His statement might give Wisconsin bulletin board material, but it indicates the Gophers, who have worked hard during their bye week, believe they can play with one of the best Badgers teams in history.

While the Minnesota offense has gotten a lot of praise recently, the defense has shown just as much improvement, shutting out Penn State in the second half of the most recent victory. Vereen gives all the credit for the defense’s turnaround to the coaching staff.

“[Defensive coordinator Tracy] Claeys gets us ready to play, he puts us in the right position, always,” Vereen said. “It’s just a matter of us making the tackles. It’s a big credit to him because it has been a drastic change of [opponents’] offenses [from week to week], but we have come in ready and focused.”

Vereen said the team was happy to have a second bye week so late in the season and before two very important games.

“The bye week has definitely come at a good time,” he said. “We aren’t as banged up as we were at the last bye week, but going into these last two games they will definitely be the most physical games out of all of them the whole season, so the bye week is going to be good for us.”

Vereen played offense at Valencia High School in California but was recruited to play defense.

His brother Shane Vereen is a standout running back for the New England Patriots, so Brock was asked if he talks football with his brother.

“We talk every single day, whether it be about football or just what is on TV,” Brock said. “He definitely has taught me a lot.”

Brock had three tackles against the Badgers last season in a 38-13 loss, and he hopes to improve on that come Saturday, something the Gophers will need to stop a powerful Wisconsin offense.

Alvarez didn’t listen

Around New Year’s Day in 1990, Barry Alvarez, a close personal friend of mine, asked advice from a number of coaches when he was offered the Wisconsin job — a position that had seen five coaches come and go in the 20 years before Alvarez was offered it.

He even asked me, at the suggestion of Lou Holtz, at the 1990 Orange Bowl between Colorado and Notre Dame, where Alvarez was working under Holtz as a defensive coordinator.

Because Wisconsin had been 6-27 the previous three seasons, I told him he’d be crazy to take the job.

Luckily for Alvarez he didn’t listen and took over as Wisconsin head coach in 1990. Alvarez had a rough first three years, going 11-22 and finishing 10th, eighth and sixth in the conference. But in 1993 Alvarez began a tremendous stretch of winning football that has made the Badgers Big Ten contenders almost every season.

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