Woeful ‘U’ pass defense faces biggest test yet

By Jon Krawczynski

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s pass defense has been chewed up and spit out in the first three weeks of the season.

After what was supposed to be the easy part of their schedule, the Gophers (1-2) head into this weekend ranked 118th in the country in pass defense, 116th in total defense and 110th in pass efficiency defense.

If the Gophers think Bowling Green, Miami of Ohio and Florida Atlantic were tough to defend, wait until they get a hold of Purdue.


The high-flying Boilermakers (3-0) come to town on Saturday night to open the Big Ten season, bringing with them with them a potent pass offense headed by quarterback Curtis Painter, who has been nearly flawless early this season.

"It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us to get our defense in a position where we can slow these people down," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said.

The Boilermakers come into the game leading the Big Ten in scoring offense (49.7 points per game), total offense (534.7 yards per game) and passing offense (319.7 yards per game), astronomical numbers racked up in three cupcake games against Toledo, Eastern Illinois and Central Michigan.

Going on the road to open the conference schedule will be the first true test these Boilermakers have faced this season, even if it is against a Minnesota team that has had all sorts of problems against three mid-major programs.

History has shown that when these two teams get together, the points come in bunches. In the last 10 meetings, the two teams have combined to average 66.7 points a game.

"We’ve had some crazy games with Minnesota, some interesting games from a fan’s point of view," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "For some reason, when we play them, there seems to be a lot of scoring that takes place, and hopefully at the end of the day, you’re ahead of them."

The key for the Gophers will be to make sure redshirt freshman quarterback Adam Weber and the offense does not turn the ball over another seven times, which is what happened in last weekend’s embarrassing loss at Florida Atlantic.

"People have talked a lot since that game about our poor performance on defense, but let me say this much — when you turn the ball over seven times, when you put your defense in a sudden change situation seven times, it’s very, very troublesome," Brewster said.


Still, the most improvement has to come on defense. Brewster said he was going to spend a lot of time in practice this week on tackling drills after watching his defenders grab at air so often in the first three weeks this season.

"As of right now, we’re a deficient tackling football team," the coach said earlier this week.

The Gophers also plan to simplify things, Brewster said, paring down the playbook to try to eliminate confusion and misalignment, two big problems last weekend against the Owls.

"We can’t worry about too many other things other than alignment, assignment and tackling," Brewster said.

They better worry about Painter. The senior has thrown for 952 yards, 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions in this young season.

And with a talented receiver corps that includes Dorien Bryant, Greg Orton and Selwyn Lymon and running back Kory Sheets, the Boilermakers are loaded on offense with the kind of talent that Brewster hopes to one day recruit to the Twin Cities.

"These are all guys that are dynamic in their athletic ability," Brewster said. "And that’s the direction we have to go in our recruiting. We have to recruit more dynamic athletes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. And that’s how we’re going to get it fixed."

Unfortunately for the Gophers, all the recruiting in the world won’t help them on Saturday night.


"Right now, we have more skill on the field than probably any time in the past," Painter said.

That doesn’t sound promising for the Gophers defense, but cornerback Jamal Harris said it might be just what the maligned unit needs to get going.

"A lot of people have been talking bad about the defense, saying we’re this, saying we’re that," Harris said. "So we want teams to come out and do well so we can redeem ourselves."

What To Read Next
Fundraising is underway to move the giant ball of twine from the Highland, Wisconsin, home of creator James Frank Kotera, who died last month at age 75, 44 years after starting the big ball.