Defense was Minnesota’s strength, and the biggest losses to graduation come on that side of the ball. Outgoing seniors include defensive tackles Ra’Shede Hageman and Roland Johnson, linebackers Aaron Hill and James Manuel, and cornerbacks Brock Vereen and Martez Shabazz.
But the Gophers like their defensive depth. And they hope another year of growth will help an offense that went 13 consecutive quarters without scoring a touchdown before Friday’s fourth quarter. Almost the entire offense returns next year.
Senior Derrick Engel led the team in receiving, but the Gophers faced life without him for the final three games after he tore an ACL. Fullback Mike Henry and left tackle Ed Olson also graduate, but they have capable replacements.
Think about Friday’s two touchdown passes for a moment — Leidner (redshirt freshman) to tight end Maxx Williams (redshirt freshman); and Leidner to wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky (true freshman). Another freshman, Donovahn Jones, started the year as a quarterback and finished as one of the team’s best receivers.
Among this year’s redshirts who could be difference-makers next year are running back Berkley Edwards, wide receiver Eric Carter and tight end Nate Wozniak.
Nelson will be a junior. Nearly all of the offensive line and running backs return, including senior-to-be David Cobb, who rushed for 1,202 yards.
“We got better this year,” Kill said. “[Last year’s 34-31 bowl loss to Texas Tech] helped us a bunch. And we’ll get better from here, even though we didn’t win the game. That’s our job.
“Where our program was at when we took over the job, and where we’re going, we’re heading in the right direction, there’s no question about that.”
Joe Christensen • email@example.com