Why Defense still makes the Gophers a bowl team

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The Gopher defense was much better against Iowa than anybody wants to believe, and is the reason the Gophers will be a bowl team this season.

Last week I told you about how the Gophers were probably never as good as the #6 ranking that the staff here at OTE bestowed on them. I was blasted for being a revisionist historian. I was told that I couldn't spell. I can live with all of that. I was in a bad place.

But I've had a chance to look at some things since that game. Now I'm here to tell you why the Gophers aren't one of the 3 worst teams in the B1G conference, like that same staff has now ranked them, despite getting donkey-punched by Iowa, and why, because of the defense this is still a bowl team.

Let's get something out of the way right off the bat. The Gopher run defense was bad against Iowa.

The Gophers were giving up less than 130 yards/game heading into Iowa, then proceeded to allow the Hawkeyes to rack up 182 yards.

Bad.

The Gophers also walked into Kinnick with a +5 turnover margin on the season, and walked out with a +1.

Bad.

But those are the only non-scoreboard statistical areas of the game where the Hawkeyes beat the Gophers. Every other statistical area of the game was close, or favored the Gophers.

The Gophers had as many 1st downs as the Hawkeyes, were better on 3rd down than the Hawkeyes, had more passing yards, less penalties (and penalty yards) and had more time of possession than the Hawkeyes.

Furthermore, it is a fact that the Hawkeye offense did NOT dominate the Gopher defense, and as a matter of opinion, I still think the Gophers are a better top-to-bottom football team than the Hawkeyes.

This game was about 1 bad quarter for the Gopher defense. And, in fact, it wasn't even an entire quarter. We're talking about a <9 minute stretch of poor play from the Gopher defense that began on the last drive of the first quarter, and ended with Iowa's third TD just 6 minutes into the 2nd quarter.

Starting with the first play of the 2nd quarter, it took just 8 offensive plays for the Hawkeyes to score 21 points.

I'm not here to convince you that Minnesota should have won this game... no chance that should have happened. The Hawkeyes pounced when they had the chance and buried the Gophers early. But the Gophers actually played pretty well outside of the aforementioned 9 minute stretch.

Here were the results of each of Iowa's offensive drives: FG, Punt, Punt, TD, TD, TD, End of Half, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt.

Again, I'm not discounting how absolutely crippling that 3-drive stretch of TD's was. Without question, it was a crusher to the Minnesota psyche. But the results of all of Iowa's drives don't exactly communicate a dominating offensive performance, and the Hawkeyes needed a pick-6 thrown by Max Shortell to keep from putting up a goose-egg in the 2nd half.

I still believe that Minnesota has a defense that is in the top 1/3rd of the B1G, and I type that with a completely straight face.

The 24 points given up to Iowa is the most points the Gophers have given up to any team in regulation. Even after the Iowa game, the Gophers rank 5th in scoring defense (19.6 ppg), 3rd in pass defense (181.6 ypg) and 4th in total defense (320.8 ypg) in the conference, and 30th, 20th and 23rd nationally in those same categories.

This is not a dominant Gopher defense. But this is a very good Gopher defense that will keep this team in more B1G games than people realize.

Defense was not the problem for the Gophers against Iowa and it absolutely will not be the problem for this team as the B1G schedule continues. Northwestern will be difficult for this defense because they run the ball well and are 4th in the conference in total offense, and certainly other B1G teams will pose their own problems, but this pass defense will more often than not put opposing offenses into situations that they do not want to be in, and that will translate to more wins than anybody wants to believe.

Starting this week against Northwestern, this defense will adjust, will play better, and will be the reason this Gopher football team wins at least two B1G games and goes bowling in 2012.

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