To upset 15th-ranked Michigan this week, the Gophers might need to win a low-scoring battle, because the Wolverines rank only 70th nationally in scoring offense (28.6 points per game) but lead the nation in scoring defense (9.3 points allowed per game).
The Gophers had the type of defense that looked capable of winning such a battle — until their last game, a 48-25 pasting by Nebraska.
It was the most points the Gophers allowed since their 58-0 defeat at Michigan in 2011.
“I did a terrible job managing the injuries,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said Tuesday.
Claeys explained that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the two critical days of practice each week. His mistake before the Nebraska game, he said, was using middle linebacker Cody Poock in those practices, only to learn Thursday that he couldn’t play. This left the team scrambling to juggle the linebacker groups.
“Knowledge gives kids confidence, you know,” Claeys said. “And we played hesitant because of having to switch everybody around. Those kids got very little practice on the running game.”
Terrell Newby darted through a huge hole for a 69-yard touchdown run on Nebraska’s third play from scrimmage. Defensive end Alex Keith broke a hand during warmups, depleting the team’s pass rush. Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. feasted for 261 passing yards.
“Up front, we didn’t play very well,” Claeys said. “When you don’t do that, you give a team a two-way go [to run or pass at will], and you’re in trouble. If we had just taken away the run from the beginning, then we’d have been better off. But we didn’t stop anything.”
Claeys said Poock remains limited in practice because of an unspecified injury. Poock is questionable, but there still is hope he can play against Michigan. He ranks second on the team with 45 tackles. Sophomore Everett Williams is the backup middle linebacker.
“Everett didn’t get as many reps [before the Nebraska game] because of what happened [with Poock],” Claeys said. “So he played a little bit hesitant. So I won’t make that [mistake]. We’ll make sure that Cody knows what to do, but we’re going to give the reps to the other guys, until we know he’s ready to go for sure.”
Croft bides time
Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said the staff wanted to use backup quarterback Demry Croft against Nebraska, adding that the timing just wasn’t right.
The Gophers trailed 24-14 at halftime, but the problem wasn’t Mitch Leidner, who was 16-for-17 for 156 yards at that point. Leidner was 24-for-30 for 289 yards before throwing two late interceptions.
The Gophers pulled a potential redshirt from Croft on Oct. 3 at Northwestern. The true freshman played the fourth quarter of that 27-0 loss, and the fourth quarter of the team’s 41-13 victory the next week at Purdue.
Asked if there are concerns about Croft’s limited playing time hurting his development, Limegrover noted all the reps he’s getting in practice as the No. 2 quarterback.
“That’s a challenge with any freshman you have,” Limegrover said. “If Mitch continues [to play well], it’s hard to pull a guy out when you feel like there are things that are going right. But we’ve got to make sure that we have the plan in place and feel comfortable doing that when the time basically presents itself.”
• Coach Jerry Kill missed Tuesday’s news conference because he and his wife, Rebecca, had some commitments that ran long. Kill plans to address the media after Wednesday’s practice.
• The offensive line struggled against Nebraska, producing a stagnant running game and poor pass protection for Leidner. Limegrover said he’s hopeful to have center Brian Bobek back from his unspecified injury, noting that Bobek’s “an older kid, stronger kid,” than true freshman center Tyler Moore. Limegrover also said the two seniors splitting time at left guard — Jon Christenson and Joe Bjorklund — “were moving around well on Sunday, and we need those guys.”