The beginning of the Gophers season had a very different story than the one that played out on Saturday.
The Gophers allowed 40 points and a season-high 506 yards of offense to No. 8 Iowa, a steep drop for a defense that was good as the team could’ve asked it to be in the first half of the season.
The defense held high-scoring No. 13 Texas Christian University to 23 points to open the season and didn’t allow Kent State’s offense to score any points on Sept. 19.
Then the team was struggling on offense, putting up more than 23 points only once in its first five games.
Now the tables have turned, but for different reasons.
Minnesota’s offense has been performing excellently as of late. Redshirt quarterback Mitch Leidner became the second quarterback in Minnesota history to put up four consecutive games of 250 or more passing yards.
The offense has scored an average of 28 points in its last five games and has done so against three top-tier defenses in the Big Ten.
“I think we’re playing some of our best football we’ve played all season,” Leidner said. “We’re moving the ball pretty well. … There is no lack of confidence on any single person on the offense.”
The running game also found its groove again against Iowa, as the team rushed for a combined 133 yards and also rushed for three touchdowns.
The defense has been another story.
Junior cornerback Jalen Myrick, sophomore defensive tackle Steven Richardson and redshirt junior defensive tackle Scott Ekpe were all either injured before or during last week’s game against Ohio State. All three of the players were regular starters before their injuries.
Their presence was missed on Saturday, as the Gophers allowed the most yards to an opponent they had all season.
“We’re going to struggle on defense for a couple weeks,” head coach Tracy Claeys told reporters Saturday. “We’re playing the kids we’ve got. They’re playing their butts off, but we’re not the same defensive football team we lined up with the first half of the season.”
The Gophers run defense was hurt especially on Saturday as a result of the injuries, as they allowed five rushing touchdowns on Saturday against Iowa.
The Gophers had to give back Floyd of Rosedale after losing to the Hawkeyes and have now lost four games in a row.
Senior safety Antonio Johnson said he wouldn’t let the injuries excuse the poor play by the defense against Iowa, though.
“It’s tough because you have guys that have to step up and [are] still kind of learning the defense,” Johnson said. “We try to play as hard as we can with the guys we got out there. Can’t make any excuses.”