Gophers notebook: Murray, Vereen shut down Robinson

Minnesota defensive back Brock Vereen breaks up a pass intended for Penn State wide receiver Brandon Felder on Saturday in Minneapolis. The Gophers defense helped lead the team to its fourth straight win.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers defense had a tall task on Saturday.

Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson is one of college football's best. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he's a brutal matchup for any defensive back. Robinson is the type of player who's going to make some NFL team very happy with his play on Sundays.

So, the Gophers decided to make the job of stopping Robinson a team effort. On almost every play Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, Robinson was double-teamed.

"I can count the times on one hand that Robinson wasn't double-covered," Gophers acting head coach Tracy Claeys said. "We decided we weren't going to let any one player beat us."

The strategy worked. The Gophers held Robinson to seven catches for 63 yards. Most importantly, they kept him out of the end zone in a 24-10 victory, which was Minnesota's fourth consecutive Big Ten win.


For much of the day, the responsibility to cover Robinson was left to corner Eric Murray and safety Brock Vereen.

They never let him out of their sight.

Vereen said the bulk of the credit should go to Murray, though. Actually, he went even further. He believes Murray already is one of college football's best defensive players.

"Eric Murray had the best game of any defensive player all year," Vereen said. "I hope this game will help get him some of the respect he deserves."

Murray's best play came on an interception that won't go down in the books. Robinson looked like he may have a touchdown, but Murray broke up the pass, tipping it up to himself and catching the ball in the end zone. The play was called back, though, as the Gophers had jumped into the neutral zone at the snap.

"We did a good job of defending their receivers," Claeys said.

Ball control

This Gophers team has prided itself all season on ball control. They came into Saturday's game averaging about 33 minutes in time of possession, while limiting their opponents to 27 minutes.


Those numbers were even better Saturday. The Gophers had the ball for more than 35 minutes and they held Penn State to about 24 minutes.

"That's what we've been doing for 20-some-odd years," Gopher coach Jerry Kill said. "That's how you win football games, especially here in the Midwest."

The Gophers entered the game 14th in the nation in time of possession. That rank should improve after Saturday's showing.

Fourth down

Another ranking that will improve is the team's fourth-down conversion percentage.

The Gophers had converted 72.7 percent of their fourth downs (8-of-11) entering the game. They were a perfect 3-of-3 on Saturday against the Nittany Lions.

At 11-of-14, the Gophers are easily one of the top teams in the country on fourth down.

"We're going to be an aggressive football team," Kill said. "You have to be smart, but we want to be aggressive."


Punting game

The Gophers got a big boost Saturday from the special teams.

The kicking game was fantastic, particularly on kickoffs where the Gophers were forced to battle a gusting wind.

Punting was equally good. Peter Mortell had his best game in a Gophers uniform. He punted four times for an average of 46 yards. He pinned Penn State inside the 5-yard line twice and inside the 20 three times.

"I wouldn't have anticipated a good kicking day with the wind we had," Mortell said.

On pinning the ball deep, Mortell said after the ball leaves his foot, there's not much he can do. He said the credit should go to the players who rushed down the field and stopped the ball from reaching the goal line.

"After it leaves my foot, I just hope for the best and fortunately today it was," he said.

Long snapper Jake Filkins raced down and stopped one of the balls from reaching the end zone, downing it at the 1-yard line. Logan Hutton touched another punt down at the 2-yard line.


"Field position was key certainly because it was a windy day," Kill said.

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