Critical readjustments by 'U' defense slow down SJSU's David Fales
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MINNEAPOLIS -- San Jose State senior quarterback David Fales lived up to his billing.
Mixing in a high affinity for highlight-worthy throws, Fales showed off to those at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday why he is projected as one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft class.
Fales, with Minnesota Vikings general Rick Spielman and several NFL scouts watching from the press box, tormented the Minnesota Gophers' secondary with seven throws of 23 yards or more en route to a 294-yard outburst.
But that was only the first half.
Fales' eye-catching performance was suffocated in the game's final 30 minutes by a startling reversal by the Gophers' defense, which locked in during the second half to anchor Minnesota's 43-24 victory in its nonconference finale.
Just before halftime, Fales found receiver Chandler Jones on a 32-yard pass that suddenly brought the Spartans within three points of the Gophers, putting an uneasy feeling on the home team, up only 20-17.
"We didn't expect him to get those three-step drops," said junior linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who had a co-team high six tackles in his first career start. "We expected more five-step drops, to read the defense. It was a surprise at first, but after the first two series we started to adjust to it."
In the third quarter, the Gophers turned a questionable defensive outing into a strong statement that reflected the glimmers of dominance the unit has shown throughout the first four games of the season.
Less than three minutes into the second half, the Gophers issued a game-changing momentum swing. Fales had a pass picked off by senior linebacker Aaron Hill, who set Minnesota up at the Spartans' 12-yard line.
In three plays, redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner and the Gophers offense were in the endzone, jumpstarting a run of 23 unanswered points.
A variety of defensive adjustments, credited in part to defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, helped the Gophers hold Fales to only one completion of nine yards off six attempts in the third quarter,
"Nobody panicked," coach Jerry Kill said of the locker room scene at halftime. "We had to get him out of a rhythm ... Our mindset was to get them to believe. He is a good player. There's no question, but we have to step it up and get more pressure ... I thought we played with more energy."
With the offense controlling time of possession (41 minutes to 19) and the scoreboard, the defense yielded just 158 total yards and seven points in the closing half.
The Gophers were struggling to get pressure on Fales in the early goings and their secondary was having difficulty picking up on the coverage reads as a flurry of passes were continually sent their way. However, the defensive line was able to close in more on Fales, by the second half, with the aid of a linebacker corps that underwent a few shifts to help induce pressure.
"We were trying to be more aggressive and create our identity," Hill said. "I thought we came out in the second half and made the adjustments that we needed to."
Through four games, the "U" defense is averaging only 8.5 points allowed in the second half.