I have watched Gophers football for decades but Minnesota’s defense last Saturday night against Syracuse was special. It reminded an observer of coach Murray Warmath’s defenses in the 1960s when pass rushers were intimidating quarterbacks, tacklers were punishing ball carriers and Gophers were swarming all over the field making plays.
The Gophers held Syracuse without a touchdown until the last minute of the game. This was a Syracuse offense that came to Minneapolis averaging 533 yards in total offense and ranked third in the country in passing yards per game. The Orange had scored 29 points against USC and 41 versus Northwestern.
In the 17-10 win the Gophers held Syracuse to 350 total yards including 228 passing. The Gophers intercepted two Orange passes and recovered two Syracuse fumbles.
Coach Jerry Kill told the Big Ten Network after the game his defense is improved from a year ago because the players know their assignments better. They can play faster, and with some new personnel the overall foot speed is better, too.
“Much improved,” said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo on Saturday night. “Tracy Claeys, defensive coordinator, has done a fabulous job. Look at how many people are flying to the ball. Every time there is a turnover you can count how many of the Minnesota guys are around. Jerry Kill says they’re playing faster and they’re playing harder than they were a year ago.”
Any eye-catching defense includes playmakers that stand out each Saturday. A list of those Gophers has to include sophomore safety Derrick Wells, junior tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and senior end D.L. Wilhite. Those have been impact players and others like junior linebacker Aaron Hill and senior cornerback Troy Stoudermire have been impressive, too.
With last Saturday’s win over Syracuse, the Gophers have not only won four consecutive games to start the season but Minnesota has won six of its last nine games dating back to last season. That’s the program’s best streak since 2004 when the Gophers won eight of nine games going back to 2003.
On Saturday night the Gophers also played before their first sellout crowd at home since November 27, 2010.