April 23, 2024

Golden Gophers fielding one of nation’s best defenses this fall

Minnesota Golden Gophers Football

Minnesota's defense gang tackles an Iowa ball carrier during the fourth quarter on Saturday November 13, 2021 at Kinnick Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

Minnesota’s defense orchestrated a dominant campaign last year, and has the potential to be successful again in 2022, with a plethora of weapons returning.

It’s no mystery that the Golden Gophers finished second in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing, passing and total defense last season. P.J. Fleck’s squad raised eyebrows across the nation after they ranked third in the FBS in total yards allowed. Not to mention Minnesota held opponents to 16 or fewer points in seven of its’ nine victories, including a shutout on the road at Colorado.

The unit was stifling down the stretch and a big reason why the Golden Gophers ended 2021 on a three-game winning streak. Since then Minnesota’s defense has been building on that momentum, and carried it throughout fall camp. There’s plenty of firepower on that side of the ball too. As a matter of fact, Defensive Coordinator Joe Rossi has an All-Big Ten caliber defender at every level of his defense.

And that’s a scary thought, considering Rossi is in his fourth season of spearheading the defense. Despite losing defensive end Boye Mafe, who became a second round NFL Draft pick, and leading tackler Jack Gibbens, the defense shouldn’t miss a step. Rossi will have options because of the experience, production and leadership on the roster.

Junior defensive tackle DeAngelo ‘Trill’ Carter is a menace along the interior, and will be anchoring the big boys up front again. The former three-star prospect has stockpiled 36 tackles over the past two years, including 6.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. Carter will be lining up alongside senior edge rusher Thomas Rush, who generated 36 stops in 2021, including 7.5 for loss and 5.5 sacks.

However, senior linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin is the heart and soul of Minnesota’s defense. Sori-Marin is the teams’ leading returning tackler, and an enforcer, who takes pride in setting the tone every game. Not only did he lead the Golden Gophers in stops in 2020, but Sori-Marin also has a jaw-dropping, 127 tackles over the past two seasons.

There’s no denying that he can fly from sideline to sideline. And in back-to-back games against Northwestern and Illinois last year, Sori-Marin racked up 23 total tackles.

Minnesota’s secondary is full of ballhawks, led by senior safety Tyler Nubin. The Illinois native led the team in interceptions and finished third with 52 tackles in 2021. Nubin used his speed and instincts to pick off a pass in victories over Miami (Ohio), Purdue and Indiana. The former three-star prospect left a lasting impression with a season-high, seven solo tackles, including one for loss and a sack in the bowl win over West Virginia.

Alongside Nubin in the secondary is senior safety Jordan Howden, who was the Minnesota’s fourth-leading tackler. Sophomore cornerback Justin Walley hauled in an interception and led the team in pass breakups. Senior Terrell Smith picked off a pass of his own and provided 16 tackles.

With that much talent on that side of the ball, it’s no wonder why Minnesota is expected to be one of the best defenses in the country again. The schedule sets up nice for the unit to get off to a fast start and gain traction heading into Big Ten play.

Bottom line, this year’s defense is tenacious enough to get the Golden Gophers to their first-ever berth in the Big Ten Championship Game. And that’s saying a lot about the group’s potential , considering Minnesota hasn’t won a conference title since 1967.