Do you know who was 2nd in total defense and scoring defense in the B1G last year?
Yeah, I actually had to look it up to and then go to a 2nd source to make sure I wasn’t in some sort of 3.2 cbd haze. It really did happen.
For the 2nd time in his tenure, Gophers DC Joe Rossi put together a really exceptional defense. While fans may have gotten used to rather salty unit during the Kill/Claeys era, the team never finished higher than 4th in either category (and never in the same year). It’s a bit of an afterthought since Fleck and Ciarrocca have also put together the best Gopher offenses in a very long time (about 20 years, really), but the defense has been spectacular ever since Robb Smith got catapulted after the Illinois game in 2018.
This year brings a bit of a different challenge, though. In the past few years there’s been a level of consistency on the DL and some flux at LB and DB. This year, nearly everyone returns on the back half of the unit, but the DL and the tackles in particular are going be all new. Just going through the list of players gone is a bit unnerving: Micah Dew-Treadway and Nyles Pinckney at DT (and Val Martin too LOLZ), Boye Mafe and Esezi Otomewo at DE, Jack Gibbbens at LB, and 2016 Holiday Bowl star Coney Durr at CB. That’s a lot of guys with a lot of starts and a lot of production to have to replace.
So the good news: Trill Carter and Thomas Rush are back. Both contributed quite a bit last year, started in spots, and have shown the ability to take care of business up front. The portal has worked reasonably well for the Gophers at this position, and now DE Lorenza Surgers (Vandy), Kyler Baugh (Going back to the Albilene Christian well), and Darnell Jeffries (Clemson) will be counted on to add some experience.
But...that’s not going to be enough. We’re going to find out quickly how well recruiting has gone, because guys like Deven Eastern, Jah Joyner, and Logan Richter will probably be counted on quite a bit. I would have felt much better about this year if Chad Wilt was still here, but that guy is required by law to move every 2 years so now we have to rely on Brick Haley to get the job done coaching these guys up. Let’s see how it goes, I guess.
Last year I was absolutely terrified about how things would go with Mariano Sori-Marin running things after he looked lost at times in 2020 and Braelin Oliver went down with a leg injury before the season started. I was quite wrong. Alongside the now-departed Gibbens, MSM was outstanding all year long. He’s joined by the returning Oliver and Cody Lindenberg, who the staff has had high hopes for but missed the rest of the season after the Colorado game. These guys and Donald Willis should be just fine if they can stay healthy, and the unit will continue to be something weird for Gopher fans: not a gaping chest wound.
Speaking of areas that Gopher fans used to be absolutely terrified about that they don’t need to be anymore, THE SECONDARY!
It still feels weird to me that the Gophers have an abundance of CBs that have performed aren’t crap, but here we are again. SO Justin Walley showed flashes of being a superstar, including a key INT against wisconsin. Terell Smith had some struggle, but has been pretty good overall in his career. Michael Dixon could be counted on in spot duty and will be asked to play a bigger role. Additionally, Beanie Bishop (1st-team All-CUSA at WKU) and Ryan Stapp (ENOUGH WITH THE ALBILENE CHRISTIAN ALREADY!) transfer in and should provide help when called upon. At safety, Jorden Howden and Tyler Nubin are pretty damn good.
All things considered, this is a strong unit that just has question marks about experience on the DL. If this were certain other programs in the West (particularly in the quadrangle), we’d just assume that the new guys are going to step in and be as good as the old ones. Minnesota still isn’t given that benefit of the doubt, and I’m just fine with taking a wait and see approach.