When Maryland beat down the Gophers last season in the Big Ten opener, each of its six touchdowns were plays of more than 20 yards.
Whether 81-yard runs or 54-yard passes, the Gophers couldn’t limit the Terrapins’ explosive plays. But then again, they didn’t have their best antidote on the field: Antoine Winfield Jr.
The sophomore safety has endured season-ending injuries against Maryland the past two seasons, including a torn foot ligament last year on the Terrapins’ first drive. As a powerful playmaker himself, he’s a player who can turn Maryland’s strength against it.
Even in the most recent game at Rutgers, Winfield picked off two passes, returning one 33 yards for a score.
Defensive end Carter Coughlin pressured the quarterback into throwing that interception, though he joked Winfield didn’t thank him for it until they watched film of it.
“He was feeling it when he took it into the end zone,” Coughlin said. “He did call it, though, on the sideline. He said, ‘I’m going to get a pick-six this drive,’ and it happened. So that’s Antoine Winfield for you.”
Winfield was a little less brash when talking about his play after the game, saying, “It’s always good when you can make plays for the team.” But his teammates and coaches will do the bragging for him.
Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi put Winfield’s big-play tendencies down to genetics, as his father, Antoine Winfield Sr., played 14 seasons in the NFL as a defensive back. His son can make physical plays at the line of scrimmage, as the Gophers move him into almost a linebacker spot on some plays, as well as deep in coverage.
“He’s one of the guys that is always around the football,” Rossi said. “So is that a knack? Is it instincts? Whatever term you want to use, he’s always around the football, and the ball seems to find him.”