After a shaky game from MarQueis Gray on the road in Vegas and a strong performance from Gray in the home opener, the Gophers offense has been up and down through two games. It’s tough to tell which team will show up on offense tomorrow when Western Michigan comes to town, especially since the Gophers first two opponents have been lacking in the talent department. (And that’s probably an understatement.) It’s the defense, however, that has been showing the greatest improvement since last year. With gun-slinging Alex Carder bringing last week’s 5 TD passes into Minneapolis, the defense will need to continue to show their improvement and hound Carder and Western Michigan.
The strength of the Gophers improved D begins and ends with the pass rush. We saw signs of improvement at the end of last season and the D line has picked up where they left off. It all starts with Ra’Shede Hageman. Already totaling as many sacks as he had in all of last year, (3 sacks total last season), Hageman is causing opposing QBs to adjust blocking schemes to account for him. The 6’6″, 300 pound junior has been a menacing presence in the first two games.
“My whole mentality is just get to the quarterback,” Hageman said. “Plain and simple, no ifs, ands, or buts. I’m not trying to think too much. I’m trying to make things simple and get to the quarterback as soon as I can.”
It doesn’t end with Hageman, though. Totaling 2.5 sacks of his own, D.L. Wilhite should surpass his sack total of 3 from last year as well. In addition to the 6 total team sacks through two games, the Gophers have tallied 15 tackles for a loss. Sure the sample size is small and their opponents have been fairly weak thus far, but these are opponents that the Gophers have struggled to dispatch soundly in recent years.
Maybe the bar is set too low for a Big Ten football program, but that’s the reality of the situation these days in Minnesota. The Maroon and Gold defensive line are seizing the opportunities before them and showing significant improvement from 2011. Hopefully that pressure continues this weekend, because if it doesn’t, Carder will have a field day with our secondary.