The Minnesota Golden Gophers are looking to take a positive step in year three under head coach Jerry Kill. To do that, they need to play more consistently, particularly on defense. The Gophers have some major holes to fill heading into 2013 on the defensive side of the ball, and there’s no hole bigger, perhaps, than on the defensive line and in the pass rush. Can senior defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman step up next season and plug those holes?
He will have to for a defense that wasn’t great at rushing the passer a year ago. The Gophers ranked No. 59 in sacks last season and their leader in sacks, D.L. White with 8.5, has graduated. Hageman finished second on the team in sacks last year with six quarterback takedowns, but the Gophers were thin on pass rushers beyond the duo of White and Hageman. Heading into 2013, Hageman is the only player to have more than 2.5 sacks in 2012, which means some inexperienced linemen will have to grow up in a hurry next fall.
But until they do, Kill will lean on the long frame of Hageman to get things done. At 6-foot-6 and 301 pounds, the senior is a massive presence on the edge of the line who has shown the ability to get after the quarterback. He has shown tremendous growth in his game since coming to Minnesota as he entered his junior season in 2012 with only a pair of sacks in his first two seasons with the Gophers. The defense will need him to continue that growth into his senior year, as well, to pace the Minnesota pass rush.
For Minnesota to succeed next season, they will need their defense to keep some of the games close. The best way to do that is to get after opposing quarterbacks, something that Hageman can do. Will he be able to make the difference for the Gophers in 2013?