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Minnesota Football: After rough start, Gopher defense focused on their response

Joe Rossi hopes to see growth from his defense’s failings

Michigan v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers’ season-opening 49-24 loss to the Michigan Wolverines was certainly not the result the players, coaches, and fans were hoping for.

But as far as defensive coordinator Joe Rossi is concerned, the response is more important than the result. Because that is what the culture at Minnesota demands.

“There is a game, there is a result, and then there is a response. Your success in life is based on the in-between. It’s after the result that determines your success,” Rossi explains.

“There was a game, it wasn’t where we needed or wanted it to be, so then you go back to work and find where you can be better in the process and then you go out and do it again and get another result. And whether that result is good or bad, there is going to be the same evaluation and then there is going to be a response and that is how you grow.”

In the vocabulary of head coach P.J. Fleck, “failing” means “growth,” and the Gopher defense has plenty of room to grow after failing to stop the Wolverines’ offense on Saturday. Minnesota surrendered 35 points in the first half alone — the most that the Gophers have ever allowed in the first two quarters of a game under Fleck. Michigan also racked up 256 yards on the ground, averaging 8.3 yards per carry. And the Wolverines only punted once all night.

Rossi does not mince words in assessing their defensive performance.

“At all three levels, I think our defense needs to be better. I need to coach better. The staff needs to coach better. The players need to play better,” he says. “That wasn’t acceptable.”

The coaching staff wasted no time breaking down the game film on Sunday, and while Rossi commended the effort he saw on tape, he also identified multiple areas of improvement. Communication between players was an issue at times. In some instances the defense needed to do a better job of setting the edge, and in other instances players needed to do a better job of diagnosing plays and fitting runs. Rossi also conceded that there may have been some hesitation on the part of some of the younger players that were playing “under the lights for the first time,” and that that is to be expected, but not tolerated.

What’s the fix? Rossi and senior cornerback Coney Durr are in agreement on that: Preparation.

“Putting in that extra time,” Durr says. “Overdoing it. Going over assignments. We’ve got a lot of younger guys, so bringing those guys up to speed and just being able to play fast.”

“There’s no excuses. You gotta be ready to play. The other team is not going to feel sorry for you. We gotta get to it. Prepare, keep preparing, and just be ready.”

For Rossi, it is about repetition. When you do something over and over again, eventually it becomes a habit. Before long, it is instinct, and that is what the Gophers are working to develop.

Minnesota has also spent the short week preparing for a Friday night matchup with Maryland. Led by Alabama transfer quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, the Terrapins’ offense only mustered three points in a Week 1 loss to Northwestern, but have the athleticism at the skill positions to make life difficult for opposing defenses. Durr has no plans to underestimate them.

“Maryland has a pretty great wide receiving corps,” according to Durr. “They’re pretty young at quarterback, but they’ve got playmakers all over the place. So the secondary definitely has to step up. It’s going to be a huge challenge and we’ll be prepared for it. Just knowing our assignments and being able to play fast is the biggest thing.”

Rossi is hopeful that his defense will show improvement across the board.

“I think what you’ll find is you’ll see guys reacting a little bit quicker and cutting it loose a little bit more, and that’s what we talked about during the week,” he says.

Let’s hope their response leads to a better result on Friday night.