The Gophers football team had the 12th-best pass defense in the country last year, allowing 186.6 passing yards per game, and the coaching staff and many pundits around the country think this year’s squad could be even better and rank with the best in the nation.

The defensive backs will get a stiff test Thursday night in Minnesota’s season opener when they face TCU senior quarterback Trevone Boykin, a Heisman Trophy contender who passed for 258 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-7 victory last season against the Gophers. They also will go against senior wide receiver Josh Doctson, who caught six passes for 64 yards and both of those touchdowns last year.

Gophers redshirt senior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun is going to be a big key to the defensive backfield, and perhaps no player better exemplifies ability of coach Jerry Kill and his staff to foster unheralded talent than Boddy-Calhoun.

Consider that only three years ago, Boddy-Calhoun was coming out of Coffeyville Community College in Kansas as a second-team all-conference cornerback who had received almost no attention while playing at Wilmington (Del.) Delcastle Technical High School. Last season he started 10 games, played in all 13, was named All-Big Ten first team by the media and tied for the third-most interceptions in a single season in Gophers history by grabbing five.

If you want a great story line, Calhoun is hard to beat. He talked about what it means to have worked so hard to prove people wrong.

“Out of high school, I had zero stars, zero stars,” he said. “So [recruiting services] didn’t think very highly of me. I just think it’s a great thing because you can go into college with that chip on your shoulder. Guys with four or five stars may come into college thinking they’re entitled to something when they haven’t played a play or a down yet. When you’re a freshman you all are freshman, no matter how many stars you have. It’s not about what you do before college but what you do in college.”

He said he and his teammates have heard people praising the secondary heading into the TCU game, and he thinks they have earned some of that praise, but they want to prove it on the field.

“We like to believe that’s true,” he said. “But we also put in a whole lot of work in the offseason to try and make that come true.”

Boddy-Calhoun said one of the biggest differences between this year and last year is the Gophers play the Horned Frogs at home.

“I heard Coach Kill talk about them being a fast-paced offense,” he said. “It kind of slows down the communication the louder [the fans] are. When you’re away, the crowd is usually quiet on third down because they want their quarterback to succeed. That’s the biggest difference between being home and away.”

The Gophers will need a tremendous effort from the secondary and to limit offensive turnovers (the Gophers had five last year vs. TCU) if they’re going to reverse last year’s results, and Boddy-Calhoun believes they’re ready for that challenge. If the sellout crowd at TCF Bank Stadium stands up and screams when TCU has the ball, you might see one of the biggest upsets of the year.

“I think when they had to drop the ball in the long field [last season], I don’t think they scored one time,” Boddy-Calhoun said. “I think if we eliminate some of those mistakes, continue to play hard on defense, continue to get a rush on the quarterback and play good on the outside, I think we have a great chance of winning this week.”

One of the analysts who follows the TCU team is predicting a 41-13 Horned Frogs victory, but if the defense can step up, there’s no reason the Gophers can’t compete with the best teams in the nation.

Quality starts needed

The Twins have gone 8-2 over their past 10 games to pull within 1 ½ games of Texas for the final American League wild-card spot with 32 games to play this season, but it’s almost unfathomable to believe the team has done it with such poor starting pitching over that stretch.

Consider that Ervin Santana’s seven scoreless innings in Sunday’s 7-5 victory over Houston marked only the second quality start by any Twins pitcher in the past 10 games. The other was by Tyler Duffey on Aug. 20 in the Twins’ 15-2 victory over Baltimore, which started a six-game winning streak. Duffey went 7 ⅔ innings and allowed two runs in that game.

Here is the breakdown between the starters and the bullpen over the past 10 Twins games:

The starters pitched 53 innings, allowed 70 hits, 25 runs, 18 walks and struck out 40. That’s good for a 4.25 ERA. Meanwhile, the bullpen has pitched 39 innings, allowed 24 hits, eight runs, 13 walks and 36 strikeouts. That’s good for a 1.85 ERA.

Yes, it’s amazing to consider the Twins have managed such a drastic turnaround, going from four games out of the wild-card spot and two games under .500 on Aug. 19, to where they are now while their starters struggled so much.

If the starters can start putting together more performances like Santana did on Sunday, there’s an even higher potential for this team in September.

Jottings

• Big things were expected of Mike Wallace when the Vikings acquired the wide receiver from Miami, where last season he caught 67 passes for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns. But it took three preseason games and most of Saturday’s first quarter in Dallas before Wallace caught a deep pass, a 38-yard reception. Wallace later caught two more passes for 12 yards against the Cowboys.

• Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was 7-for-7 for 76 yards Saturday. His totals through four preseason games have been impressive, completing 29 of 35 passes (82.9 percent) for 295 yards and a 111.3 passer rating.

• However, the Vikings were 0-for-11 on third-down conversions against the Cowboys and need to improve in that area before the regular season starts. On the positive side, the Vikings defense held Dallas to 0-for-10 on third downs. … The Vikings defense has allowed an average of 11.3 points through four preseason games, all victories, where a year ago the unit gave up 12.3 points per game in the four exhibition games they played.

• Placekicker Blair Walsh, who has had his problems this preseason after having his worst NFL regular season a year ago, made field goals of 28 and 45 yards and missed a 43-yard attempt against Dallas. He also added two extra points. Asked about Walsh’s performance Saturday, coach Mike Zimmer said he told Walsh after he missed the one Saturday: “I said, ‘Quit thinking so much and just kick the dang ball.’ He said, ‘I know.’ I said, ‘You’re too good for that, so just kick it. Quit thinking.’ ”

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com