Friday, September 7, 2007

Grading Minnesota's Defense

Much like the Minnesota offense last week, the defense started out in such a way that enabled BGSU to jump out to an almost insurmountable lead.

Like the offense, Tim Brewster promised a different defense. He brought in Everett Withers to coordinate and both suggested the defense would attack instead of play on its collective heels. So, during BGSU's first two possessions, Withers came after Falcons quarterback Tyler Sheehan. The result? The Falcons scored quicker than anyone ever did on Glen Mason.

So, on to a numerical grade on the Gophers' defense. Later tonight I'll take a look at what to expect from Miami (Ohio) tomorrow.

Coaches: 4 out of 10
Blitzing doesn't solve everything and it certainly doesn't make up for a lack of talent or team speed. The Falcons could very easily have put the Gophers away in the first half or early in the third if it wasn't for a slew of dropped passes and offensive penalities. Withers' defense deserves some credit for closing the floodgates in the second half, but the first three minutes were quite discouraging for the Minnesota fans in attendance on Saturday. The defense was able to capitalize on the Falcons miscues in the second half, but when the game was on the line, Withers and Brewster coached themselves out of a win. In the fourth quarter, the Gophers were putting sufficient presure on Sheehan. But as the Falcons drove for a tying field goal, the Gophers decided to sit back in a prevent. Withers didn't go to this defense until it was third-and-long with less than two minutes to play. The Falcons were on the ropes and Brewster and Withers decided to let up. They get graded down because of that.

Secondary: 2 out of 10
I'm feeling generous today because that grade should probably be a one. Other than decent play by Dominque Barber, the Gophers' secondary looked completely incompetent in the first half, struggling to keep BGSU's spread at bay. Brewster's big plan to have former wide receiver Mike Chambers play corner didn't pan out. Now Chambers is heading back to the receiver position. Senior Desi Steib is losing his starting job to true freshman Ryan Collado this week. Gopher fans shouldn't expect much from this group as the season goes on. Collado will join two other true freshman--Kyle Theret and Curtis Thomas--in the secondary. The Gophers against BGSU gave up 512 yards--412 through the air. It's going to be a long, learning year for this group.

Linebackers: 5 out of 10
If there was one member of the Gophers' defense who stood out to me in a positive way it was linebacker Mike Sherels. The Gophers are hurt by what I see as a lack of team speed at the position, but Sherels was everywhere, especially in the second half. While I have no doubt the former walk-on busts his butt on every play, it's also clear that when Withers sends an extra attacker from his linebacking corps, they can't reach the quarterback fast enough to make it worth while. Sherels is too slow. So is John Shelvin.

Defensive Line: 3 out of 10
When Withers didn't blitz, the defensive line didn't put any pressure of its own on Sheehan. Willie VanDeSteeg, described by many as a bonafide star, wasn't heard from agaisnt BGSU. If he's really a bonafide star, he needs to make his prescense felt against a MAC team. I'll be honest that I was paying far more attention to the linebacking corps and secondary then I was the D line. I was waiting and waiting for VanDeSteeg to emerge and it never happened. To mask our secondary weakness against pass-first teams, the D-Line needs to do its part and it starts with Willie V.

Special Teams: 5 of 10
Just throwing this in here quickly. Coverage on kicks was great. But punt returner Harold Howell scares the living shit out of me. He didn't communicate with his teammates when he let a punt hit the ground and fumbled another punt before recovering it. Howell has reportedly replaced Eric Decker as the #2 receiver behind Ernie Wheelright. That should be interesting and perhaps eventful. Though I'll say this about Howell: He does look shifty and quick.