4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE MINNESOTA DEFENSE
– All of a sudden, the defense went from disastrous in early November – giving up 55 points to Illinois after allowing 31 to Indiana after getting hit by Nebraska for 53 – to fantastic, allowing just 59 points over the final four games against Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin and in the bowl game over Georgia Tech.
The secondary didn’t allow much down the field – finishing first in the Big Ten in yards per completion – and the run defense stiffened up. This year, the Gophers need more of a pass rush and they need to be far, far more consistent. First …
– Generating more plays behind the line is a must. Carter Coughlin leads the charge after coming up with 9.5 sacks, but he needs the rest of the defensive line to do its part. The pressure mostly came from the linebacking corps, and now ends Mayan Ahanotu, Boye Mafe and Tai’yon Devers have to step up. The ends will have the spotlight on with a shaky situation in the interior, needing 6-4, 300-pound Notre Dame grad transfer Micah Dew-Treadway and Sam Renner to be rocks while the depth has time to develop.
– The linebacking corps will be a killer. Coughlin is a true tweener as an edge-rushing outside linebacker and defensive end. The trio of Thomas Barber inside and Kamal Martin and Thomas Rush outside should allow Coughlin to move around where needed. As long as the good-sized top three linebackers stay healthy, they’ll be able to clean up a whole lot of messes while the front four figures out what its doing.
– As long as Antoine Winfield is at safety, the secondary will be fine. It’ll take a little work to find his running mate, and the young options have to emerge early on, but all is okay if he can stay in one piece after missing most of last year with a foot injury. The corner situation is stronger with a deep group to work around junior Coney Durr.