m2900 BC-FBC-BigTenNotebook 09-19 0911
BIG TEN NOTEBOOK: Gophers defenseless through first 3 games
By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer
Through three games against what seemed to be a manageable schedule, Minnesota has been defenseless.
"Obviously I’m very, very excited about some of the things we’re doing on offense. We’re in the top 20 in most offensive categories," first-year coach Tim Brewster said this week after the Golden Gophers (1-2) lost a humbling 42-39 decision to Florida Atlantic. "We’re doing some great things on special teams, like the 91-yard kickoff return. We’re sixth, I think, in America right now in kickoff returns."
Practice makes perfect. The defense is giving up so many scores the Gophers have had plenty of chances to perfect their blocking on returns.
After games against Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio) and FAU, the defense is near the bottom of the NCAA statistics.
The Gophers are last in the nation in turnover margin at minus-3 per game, next-to-last of 119 teams in pass defense (allowing 431 yards a game) and 116th in total defense (556.33 yards a game). To put that into perspective, Ohio State has given up 591 yards — total — in three games.
Against Florida Atlantic, Minnesota had seven turnovers and was torched by the Owls’ Rusty Smith for 463 passing yards and five touchdowns. Smith had totaled just 320 passing yards and two TDs in the first two games against Middle Tennessee and Oklahoma State.
The energetic, optimistic Brewster replaced the fired Glen Mason after serving as the tight ends coach for the Denver Broncos. He remains upbeat.
The way things are going, they may need a third digit for the visitors on the Metrodome scoreboard this Saturday when the Golden Gophers host Purdue, which comes in averaging 50 points.
"We’re doing a lot of good football things," Brewster said. "But obviously we’ve got to play better on defense."
SLIGHTING IRISH: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema may be focused on his Big Ten opener against Iowa on Saturday night, but he also took a veiled swipe at Notre Dame, which hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in its 0-3 start.
When Bielema was discussing the Hawkeyes defensive effort, he noted the unit hadn’t given up a touchdown this season.
"Touchdowns aren’t easy," Bielema said. "You can ask another team in college football how hard it is to get a touchdown right now. So, I mean, anybody that goes out there and tries to do things really appreciates a defense that’s steady like they are."
SLUMBERING ECHOES: Should Michigan State beat Notre Dame on Saturday, it would mark the first 0-4 record ever for the Fighting Irish. Also, it would give the Spartans six consecutive wins in South Bend, the first time a visiting team has ever done that to Notre Dame.
No wonder Irish coach Charlie Weis is having a boot camp this week: Notre Dame is last among the 119 Bowl Subdivision teams in sacks allowed, a staggering 7.67 per game. Michigan State shares the national lead with Penn State and Indiana at 5.67 sacks per game.
The Irish are desperate for a win, and MSU coach Mark Dantonio knows it.
"They’re backed into a corner a little bit," he said.
BIG BADGERS: Iowa defensive lineman Mitch King has helped anchor a defense that’s second in the nation at 6 points allowed per game. King has 18 total tackles, including five for losses.
But things figure to get much tougher for King and his mates against No. 9 Wisconsin’s massive offensive.
"You may not see him this Saturday because their guys are so big. I swear to God, they’re like 320. These guys are gigantic," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Iowa has beaten the Badgers in four of the last five meetings, but Wisconsin is 19-1 in night games dating back to 1995.
COOL QB: True freshman Ryan Mallett looked cool and calm when he made his first start last week, throwing three touchdowns to help Michigan rout Notre Dame 38-0.
Mallett was pretty comfortable standing at a packed news conference, too.
"I don’t get nervous," he said matter of factly.
It might just be gamesmanship, but coach Lloyd Carr did not rule out starter Chad Henne, who has a leg injury, at home against No. 10 Penn State.
Mallett didn’t make many mistakes, but he caught a break when a pass he lofted across the field wasn’t picked off a Fighting Irish defender.
"I made a bad read," he said. "You just have to learn from that."
QUICK-HITTERS: Illinois has back-to-back wins for the first time since the first two weeks of the 2005 season, Ron Zook’s first as head coach. ... The rest of the schedule this week includes Illinois at Indiana and Northwestern at No. 8 Ohio State. ... Players of the week: Indiana QB Kellen Lewis, Michigan State DE Jonal Saint-Dic and Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis and PR/KR David Gilreath of Wisconsin. ... Ohio State has won its last 14 conference games and Illinois has lost its last six. ... Wisconsin owns the nation’s longest Bowl Subdivision winning streak at 12. ... The last time Michigan State received points in the AP poll and Michigan did not was Dec. 7, 1987.
AP writers Larry Lage in Detroit, Colin Fly in Madison, Wis., Mike Marot in Indianapolis, David Mercer in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., and Luke Meredith in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.