Minnesota was able to get stops when it mattered most in its Saturday win over Colorado State, greatly due to the play of the defensive line.
The defensive line had 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble. The Gophers had just 15 total tackles for loss before getting 14 in Saturday’s game.
“I think they are doing OK, I really do,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “From a defensive line standpoint, I think it’s the second and third levels where we have to play better. [Steven] Richardson blew up the one play the one time on there, knocked the center five yards deep in there. I think the guys up front on the defensive line are doing some good things. We have to play better at the linebacker level and in the secondary.”
The momentum of the game shifted when freshman defensive lineman Tai’yon Devers sacked freshman quarterback Collin Hill of Colorado State. Hill was hit so hard that he lost his helmet — and possession of the football. Minnesota recovered the ball at the Rams’ 33-yard line.
While Devers’s sack was his only tackle of the game, and he didn’t receive a lot of playing time outside of passing situations, Claeys said he is willing to use Devers more when the team is ahead.
“If we can put teams in situations where they have to throw the ball all the time, he’s a great weapon,” he said. “If teams are going to run the ball, he’s just not big enough, really, to do that. He’s only a freshman and he will grow a little bit, but he’s definitely a very talented kid.”
Richardson also stepped up on the defensive line, leading the team in tackles for loss with four. He also added a sack in the opening drive of the game — his second of the season. Redshirt senior Damarius Travis said it’s awesome to have Richardson on the defensive line.
“I'll be downfield covering and I'll look back and just hear the crowd going crazy and I'll just look back and see that it's him,” Travis said. “It's just awesome that he's on our line,”
Colorado State’s Hill was pressured into overthrowing a ball in the first quarter. The ball landed in the hands of Travis for Minnesota’s first interception of the season.
The defensive line had three sacks in the game. Hill struggled to put up big numbers against the Gophers defense and completed just one touchdown pass and only 50 percent of his passes.
A downfall of pressure on the quarterback can often be overcommitting. Screens have been one area where the defensive line and defense as a whole have struggled. Travis said the team will try to improve on screen defense in the future.
“It's going to be a familiar thing that teams do that to us just because they've had success running screens on us,” he said. “We're going to practice it, we know that teams are going to do that and we're going to be prepared for it when it comes.”