“You’ve got to be damn good on defense to win”

After Jerry Kill was hired as the new Minnesota Gophers head football coach, he sat down with ESPN’s Phil Mackey and described what it takes to build a football program. When asked what philosophies he plans to instill, Kill replied:

“You’ve got to run the football, and you can’t turn it over. And you’ve got to be damn good on defense to win.”

The third Gopher Goal is play extraordinary defense.

Kill’s vision to improve the defense will be a key factor in turning this football program around.

In 2010, the Gophers had arguably the worst defense in the country. To back that up, check out these stats:

  • The Gophers ranked 98th (out of 120) in the country in points allowed in 2010. 
  • Minnesota finished dead last in all of college football last year with eight sacks. To give you an idea of how bad that is, 41 players in college football earned more than 8 sacks by themselves last year.
  • The Gophers were second-worst in the country in deflected passes with 19.
  • 392.2 yards allowed per game
  • 33 points per game allowed

While it shouldn’t be difficult to improve on those numbers this year, Kill is trying to mold the Gophers defense into one that resembles his Northern Illinois defense from last year. Northern Illinois’ 2010 defensive stats:

  • 16th-best 19.1 points per game allowed
  • 30 sacks
  • 44 passes deflected
  • 16 interceptions (Gophers had 11)
  • Two defensive TD’s (Gophers had zero)

Keep in mind Kill was at Northern Illinois for three years, so to expect these numbers immediately from a porous Gophers defense would be highly optimistic.

One thing working in the Gophers favor, however, is the return of senior safety Kim Royston. Royston was granted a sixth year of eligibility after breaking his leg during last years spring practices. In 2009, Royston started every game at safety for Minnesota, recording 86 tackles, seven passes deflected, one interception, and a forced fumble. He will bring a much needed veteran presence to the Gophers defense, which saw only two players start all 12 games in 2010.

Another bright spot for the defense is cornerback Troy Stoudermire. Stoudermire has drawn praise from defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who says the former receiver was the best defender in spring practices. Stoudermire is an exceptional athlete and is an incredible kick returner. He needs just 189 yards to become the NCAA’s all-time leader in kick return yards. Bet ya didn’t know that. He also needs 17 more kick returns to break the record for most kick returns in NCAA history. Stoudermire’s ability to catch the ball, land crippling hits, and run a 4.39 40 will make him an exiting player to watch this year. He has NFL potential.      

Kill’s defense stresses physicality and speed. I was personally impressed with how well the defense covered the pass in the spring game, but that could also be attributed to the Gopher’s poor passing game. Nevertheless, the players are already buying into the system which has worked for Kill in the past and which has thrusted him into his most glamorous coaching position to date.

It will take a year or two for this defense to compete with high-powered Big Ten offenses like Wisconsin, Michigan, or Northwestern, but Kill’s defensive philosophy has a track record. The Gophers have never had consistent defensive superiority, but Kill’s vision of a team-oriented defense which emphasizes quarterback pressure and is built upon fast, physical players is the future for the Minnesota Gophers.      

Kill’s number one defensive objective: rush the quarterback. Check back soon as I will visit this glaring issue for the Gophers.

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