"Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships." - Dave Thorson
"I just believe that if you want to turn the program around, that defensive toughness, the physical nature of the game defensively, the spirit is probably the best way to do that." - Dennis Green
Quotes and cliches, while entertaining and amusing, cannot explain the urgency with which the Gopher defense must improve. With games this season versus offensive juggernauts such as California, Ohio State, and Penn State, the defense must hold strong if the Gophers are to have a successful season. Last year, Ted Roof turned the defense around early in the season, but then let it fall apart as the season progressed. A 55-0 loss to Iowa says it all. Ted Roof jumped on the first flight to Auburn while his stock was still high. Enter Kevin Cosgrove.
Cosgrove gained a reputation as an up-and-coming defensive coordinator while coaching at Wisconsin. While at Wisconsin from 1990-2003, he was the defensive coordinator from 1995-2003. He was a member of the coaching staff for the 1993, 1998, and 1999 Big Ten championship teams. For the 2004 season, Cosgrove took a new position as defensive coordinator at Nebraska:
Under Cosgrove's tutelage, Nebraska led the nation in sacks (50 total, 4.17 per game) and tackles for loss (10.33 per game) in 2005. The 50 sacks were the second-most ever by a Blackshirt defense, including a Big 12 Conference-leading 9.5 sacks by defensive end Adam Carriker while Barry Turner added an NU freshman-record six sacks before being named a freshman All-American.
After the 2005 season, Cosgrove's defense took a turn for the worse at Nebraska. Some blamed Nebraska's loss of talent relative to other Big 12 teams, some blamed Cosgrove's schemes against spread offenses, and some just blamed every move Cosgrove made. A list of Husker fans' protests can be found at this link.
Cosgrove has always had the reputation of a great recruiter. Whether at Wisconsin or Nebraska, he brought in talented recruits and sent several players to the NFL.
Following is a synopsis of a Nebraska reporter's reaction to Cosgrove heading to Minnesota:
Bad defense is nothing new for Minnesota, I've been watching Gopher football for 20 years now and I can't recall a good defense any of those seasons. Minnesota would probably be a good fit for Cosgrove as they wouldn't know a good defense if they saw one. They're used to dropping eight and rushing three, giving up huge leads and generally losing a lot of games due to bad defense.
I was at the game at which Minnesota gave up a 28-7 lead and 31 points to Michigan in the second half. It was heartbreaking, but not end-of-the-world shocking. And who can forget Glen Mason's last game as Minnesota's head coach after giving up a 31 point lead to Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight bowl? It's as if bad defense is in Minnesota's DNA.
So, will the real Kevin Cosgrove step forward in 2009? He will be joining Ronnie Lee as co-defensive coordinator for the Gophers. Lee has extensive experience coaching defensive backs, and Cosgrove is experienced coaching interior linebackers and linemen. Gopher fans will find out if the joint efforts of these two will be able to result in an effective defense on gameday. If the strategy works, Cosgrove's effectiveness at stopping the run will be complimented by Lee's experience in coaching position players to defend against the spread.
The litmus test? Week 3 versus the California Golden Bears and Heisman candidate Jahvid Best:
Will Cosgrove be able to slow down Jahvid Best and field a Gopher defense worthy of respect? We'll know after September 19th. So, I leave you with one more pearl of football wisdom from Dennis Green:
"The secret to success is to start from scratch and keep on scratching."