Improved D-Line dominates early-season competition

September 10, 2012

Throughout the Gophers’ 2-0 start, the team’s improved pass rush has been key.

This veteran-led unit — which only managed one sack in the four-game nonconference schedule last year — has already amassed six sacks through two games this season.

“I think the most impressive thing for me is … the defensive line is really getting off the football,” head coach Jerry Kill said after the 44-7 win over New Hampshire. “We have some athleticism there, but we just have to keep improving.”

Kill added that the team didn’t send as many blitzes in the game because of the amount of pressure generated by the four-man rush.

Minnesota tallied four sacks in the tussle with New Hampshire on Saturday, but the mayhem the defensive line created destroyed the rhythm of quarterback Andy Vailas.

Two upperclassmen led the charge.

Ra’Shede Hageman recorded two sacks and exerted his dominance over the lesser New Hampshire front.

D.L. Wilhite followed suit with 1.5 sacks — including a strip sack late in the second quarter. Michael Amaefula recovered the fumble and was also credited with 0.5 sacks later in the game.

Wilhite said keeping track of the total number of sacks each lineman records is a way to push each other.

“We’re definitely counting,” he said. “It’s competitive, and I think that’s a great thing because when you compete, you really want to be the one that gets it.”

So far this season, Hageman leads the team with 3.0 sacks and has already surpassed his total from all of last year. Wilhite is a close second with 2.5 sacks in 2012.

Notes

- This marks the first time since 2009 the Gophers have started a season 2-0.

- MarQueis Gray’s 75-yard run late in the first quarter was the longest play of his career — run or pass.

- The Gophers’ 44 points is the most points they’ve scored in the Jerry Kill era, breaking the record of 30 points set in last week’s triple-overtime win at Nevada-Las Vegas.

- Minnesota’s safety in the first quarter was its first since 2000 against Louisiana-Monroe.

- Wide receiver A.J. Barker — who caught 3 passes for 101 yards last week — scored the first touchdown of his career late in the 4th quarter.

- Freshman receiver Andre McDonald didn’t play Saturday. He suffered an infection in his leg from a turf burn earlier in the week. Kill said he could have played, but he missed significant reps in practice, so the team decided to sit him.

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