Apparently, Blake Cashman’s 20 tackles against Northwestern were too many for the Big Ten office to ignore.
The Big Ten on Monday named Cashman, a senior linebacker for the Gophers, its co-defensive player of the week for his efforts in Minnesota’s 24-14 loss to Northwestern on Saturday. Cashman made a career-high 20 tackles – at TCF Bank record for a Minnesota player – and had a sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
Cashman shares the honor with Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who forced and returned a fumble 19 yards for a touchdown, blocked a punt, broke up a pass and had eight tackles, including 3.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks, in a 63-0 rout of Illinois
The honor for Cashman came a week after his standout game in a 41-10 rout of Purdue went unrecognized by the Big Ten. In that game, the Eden Prairie native made nine tackles, a half-sack and forced and returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown. Those big plays came at key times, too. The half-sack on third-down forcing Purdue to kick a field goal, a fourth-and-1 stop of Purdue quarterback David Blough for no gain from the Boilermakers 34-yard line led to a Gophers field goal, and the forced fumble and TD return boosted Minnesota’s lead to 20-3 early in the fourth quarter.
The defensive honor last week went to Penn State defensive tackle Robert Windsor, who had two sacks and six tackles vs. Wisconsin. It was head-scratching that Cashman didn’t get a share of the award, because up to that point, the Big Ten 13 times this year had named weekly co-honorees in its four weekly categories: offensive player, defensive player, special teams player and freshman. One week, three players shared the defensive honor.
This time, Cashman’s performance in his final game at TCF Bank Stadium earned accolades from the Big Ten and drew raves from Gophers coach P.J. Fleck.
“I wish I had 130 Blake Cashmans, because he’s exactly what college football is all about, what it should be about,’’ Fleck said. “He’s a very selfless player. What he did tonight was really special, and I’ll remember that the rest of my life. Twenty tackles – he was all over the field.’’
Fleck, who predicted Sunday on WCCO Radio that the 6-2, 235-pound Cashman will have an 8- to 10-year career in the NFL, isn’t the only one recognizing Cashman’s play. For the second consecutive week, Pro Football Focus’ college evaluators named Cashman to its national defensive team of the week.
Cashman is tied for second in the Big Ten with 101 tackles and ranks third with 15 tackles for loss. The former walk-on was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s top player who began his career as a walk-on.
Cashman savored his final home game on Saturday but turned his attention to this week’s regular-season finale at Wisconsin, where the Gophers will try to win Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time since 2003.
“It’s Axe week. We travel to Madison, and it’s going to be a fun game,’’ he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this team is going to bounce back, prepare at a higher level than ever. We’re going to walk into Madison and play a very good football team, and we’re going to give them everything we’ve got.’’