So, Minnesota’s offense is, uh, not great. Actually, it’s quite bad. How do they have a record over .500?
Well, reader, their defense is solid. Not elite-level solid, given their schedule, but solid. They’re currently 39th in total defense, but take into account the offenses that they’ve faced.
Two of their wins have been against Eastern Michigan and Iowa. Those two teams have the 129th- and 130th-ranked offenses in the top division of college football. There are 130 teams in the aforementioned top division of college football.
One of their losses happened against the third and final team on their schedule with a worse offense than the Gophers’ offense: Northwestern. Such is to say, their defensive stats may be a bit padded, but it’s going to be up to the Minnesota defense to win this road game at Ross-Ade.
That being said, let’s get this boat rowing and explore the Golden Gophers’ defense!
DEFENSIVE FRONT: 4-3
Now, don’t get me wrong; a 23rd-ranked rushing defense giving up just 113 yards per game on the ground, regardless of strength of schedule, is nothing to sneeze at (and I’ve had a cold since Monday; I’m sneezing at most things).
Minny’s defensive front is led by a bunch of guys with significant playing experience who are good at stifling opposing offenses’ attempts at establishing an interior run game. In the front seven, they have two redshirt sophomores and a redshirt freshman, sure, but everybody else is a redshirt or transfer senior who knows the assignment.
They’ve also played with more or less of the same squad since late September; the Gophers have remained healthy on defense aside from the losses of key contributors Derik LeCaptain (LB) and Darnell Jeffries (DL) during their September 23rd loss to the Wildcats of Northwestern.
When it comes to pass rush, the Gophers haven’t been terribly aggressive this season (look at their opponents), but the two main assignments have to be defensive linemen Jalen Logan-Redding and Jah Joyner, who have combined for 7 sacks on the season in addition to being great pluggers of interior run gaps. They do have a total of 14 other sacks pretty evenly spread around the rest of the defensive unit, not crazy numbers, but the fact that there are multiple linebackers and defensive backs with a sack shows that the Gophers can dial up pressure from unexpected places. This will likely be a game where Hudson Card’s ability to extend plays and skirt out of the pocket prove vital.
Honestly, all things considered, even if you want to be hyper-critical of who Minnesota has played, you can’t be too upset with their defense. They do the little things right. Their linebackers clean up over the middle and prevent big gains; they tackle well; they’re very bend-don’t-break. They hope the opponent ends up tripping over itself, either literally or proverbially.
They clean up well over the middle, but when Burks and Sheffield and Yaseen are really on, that’s a tough ask, and I don’t think Minnesota has faced an offense with so many guys who would be starting slot receivers anywhere. So we’ll see how that transpires, but I like the idea of some slant routes to keep that part of the defensive front honest and see how well Hud can put the ball in the numbers and trust his receivers to gain an extra yard or two after the catch.
All of that said…their leading tackler is a redshirt freshman middle linebacker named Maverick. Three more years of that guy. That’s objectively terrifying, so let’s move on to the secondary.
They’ve had more or less the same core over the course of the season, and they sit ranked 57th in passing defense…but again, against some of the most anemic offenses in college football. I like our previously discussed receivers and even our beat-up tight end Garrett Miller in this matchup. Each one is capable of getting separation. We saw in Minnesota’s loss against Illinois last week that their secondary can be beat over the top. Hudson Card has an arm and some speedy receivers and one giant tight end.
The Minnesota defense is going to give up some yards, but they’re never going to give up a lot of points. The onus is going to be on Purdue’s offense to click, which we’ve seen short spells of throughout the season. One full game, to be fair. Over the team against which Minnesota just lost a heartbreaker.