Gophers quick hits: Defense turns out dominant performance in victory
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• Say what you will about the Minnesota Gophers' offense, the defense came after Western Illinois on Saturday with its most dominant performance of the season.
In a 29-12 victory that required the Gophers to rally in the second half from a 12-7 deficit, the defense did almost everything it could to keep Western Illinois' offense from settling in.
The numbers speak for themselves: 230 yards allowed, only 68 yards on the ground, seven tackles for losses, including three sacks, one forced fumble and six pass break-ups.
Unlike his mood after what he viewed as moments of complacency in the Gophers' trouncing of New Mexico State last week, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys came away pleased about his defense's output.
"Defensively, we did a great job of getting ourselves field position," Claeys said. "We have a tendency on defense when we get up by two scores to let up a little bit. We're just not greedy enough. Our kids need to know how good they really are. They were playing good."
• Highlighted by a takedown of Leathernecks quarterback Trenton Norvell after losing his helmet on the play, widely hyped defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman lived up to his billing by tallying six tackles, blocking a punt and breaking up a pass.
"You've got to be mentally tough, man. There's no recipe to that," Hageman said, discussing his helmet-less sack. "The goal is to get to the quarterback. I don't care if there's one, two, three people in front of me, I'm going to do the best that I can to accomplish that."
• Junior tailback David Cobb, who entered the year with only 57 yards and zero touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Gophers, ran for his third and fourth touchdowns of the season on a game-high 82 yards. With 13 carries on the afternoon, Cobb is averaging 7.4 yards per run.
• Redshirt junior running back Donnell Kirkwood was dressed and warmed up with the team before the game, but as expected the Gophers' Game 1 starter was held out Saturday for the second straight week with a lingering ankle injury.
Kirkwood, with nothing more than his typical tape wrap on his ankle, was moving well in warm-ups. A potential return next week against San Jose State seems realistic.
• After getting "banged up" in practice on Tuesday, starting junior safety Cedric Thompson was held out of the game as a precaution, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said post-game. Sophomore Damarius Travis started in Thompson's place, with sophomore Antonio Johnson serving as the primary backup
• Freshman cornerback Jalen Myrick made his collegiate debut, taking over a role on kick returns that had been filled by fellow corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who suffered a season-ending ACL and MCL tear last week.
The decision to take a redshirt off Myrick was made by the Gophers coaching staff earlier in the week. Claeys said he expects to slowly faze the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Georgia native into the backend of the rotation in the secondary, as early as next week, using him another option in nickel packages.
• Punter Peter Mortell was called upon more often than he had been in either of the Gophers' first two games, but the redshirt sophomore had a strong afternoon with five punts going for a net average of 45.4 yards, punctuated by a 51-yard strike.
• The Gophers held on to their distinction as the least-penalized team in the Big Ten by getting flag only twice. They have been penalized just seven times in three games - four less than their total from their first game last season against UNLV (11).