In our “Race to MAHturity” series, we will be highlighting Gopher football players who are expected to step up and take on a bigger role for Minnesota next season (whenever that may be).
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are experiencing a changing of the guard at the defensive end position, with multi-year starters Carter Coughlin and Winston DeLattiboudere having played their last games in maroon and gold. One of the players set to inherit a starting spot is redshirt junior defensive Boye Mafe. The Hopkins native was listed at 6’4”, 225 lbs. when he was recruited out of high school, but seems to have added about 35 lbs. to his frame since enrolling at Minnesota. The key has been retaining his elite speed while bulking up for the college level.
Even with Coughlin and DeLattiboudere getting the bulk of the snaps last season, Mafe found opportunities to make his presence known, as early in the year as the Fresno State game.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied, Mafe was inserted on the interior of the defensive line, alongside Esezi Otomewo, as part of a special package with four defensive ends that coordinator Joe Rossi likes to deploy on obvious passing downs. On 2nd and 10, Mafe blows up the right guard on a bull rush and gets his hands on quarterback Jacob Reyna, but loses his feet and can’t wrap up for the sack. Reyna escaped but was held to a minimal gain by Braelen Oliver.
On the very next play, Mafe moves to the outside as a stand-up rusher on the strong side edge. The Bulldogs’ right tackle, Syrus Tuitele, has 40 pounds on Mafe, but the redshirt sophomore defensive end puts Tuitele on skates and gets his hands on Reyna again. The pressure forces a pass that is nearly intercepted by Chris Williamson.
Mafe has even started making an impact in ways that don’t show up in a box score — an art that Coughlin mastered by the end of his career. Here against Maryland, Mafe and Tai’yon Devers are used as stand-up edge rushers to bull rush the tackles and pin quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome. With Pigrome sealed inside the pocket, Coughlin drawing a double team, and Josh Aune getting picked up by the running back, Braelen Oliver has a clear path to the quarterback for the sack.
Two weeks later against Penn State, Mafe was part of a Gopher defense that held strong in the red zone against the vaunted Nittany Lions offense. Here, on 3rd and 8 inside the red zone late in the first quarter, Mafe shifts to the edge at the last minute as a stand-up rusher and bull rushes the right tackle, forcing quarterback Sean Clifford into throwing a pass at the feet of his tight end to bring up fourth down and limit Penn State to a field goal.
And in case you were starting to think Mafe was a one-trick pony as a stand-up edge rusher, here he is against Iowa with his hand in the turf and lined up across from first-round NFL draft pick Tristan Wirfs, whom he blows right past to sack the Hawkeyes’ Nate Stanley.
Mafe capped his sophomore season in style against Auburn in the Outback Bowl, flashing impressive speed to close the gap and sack quarterback Bo Nix on the final play of the first half:
I will certainly miss Carter Coughlin and everything that he brought to this program, both on and off the field, but I am also excited to see what kind of havoc Mafe can create as a starter.