Minnesota’s top defensive player, senior Ra’Shede Hageman, was an All-American tight end in high school, so the fact he had an interception in the Gophers’ 20-17 victory at Northwestern on Saturday shouldn't be too surprising.
In fact, acting Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys ribbed Hageman for not having a couple of more.
“I joked with him that if he used the old Stickum stuff like Lester Hayes did, he might have had three interceptions,” Claeys said, referring to the former Oakland defensive back whose generous use of the adhesive led to its ban in the NFL.
Hageman settled for one interception but was credited with three pass breakups. That doubled his season total, which ranks second on the team.
Not bad for a defensive tackle.
The 6-foot-6, 311-pound Hageman has 24 tackles, including 6½ for loss, and he’s blocked a field goal and a PAT attempt.
Hageman, a candidate for the Bednarik Award, Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Lombardi Award, is undoubtedly highlighted on Nebraska’s scouting report this week.
“He’s a big guy,” Claeys said on Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “It’s one thing where sometimes his height hurts him because of pad level, and people get under him every now and then. The one thing it does help is on the pass rush.”
Claeys, the Gophers’ defensive coordinator who is filling in for head coach Jerry Kill, said the Gophers’ entire defensive line did a better job against Northwestern of collapsing the pocket. Minnesota held the Wildcats to 25-of-46 passing for 234 yards and had three sacks.
“They had a lot of short throws,” Claeys said, “and Ra’Shede was able to plant his feet and get his hands up and knock some of them down and make (the quarterback) adjust a few other throws.”
The Gophers had two interceptions, the other coming from Hageman’s roommate, James Manuel, who returned his for the game-deciding touchdown.
“We just made more plays on the ball than what we had,” Claeys said. “Our secondary really played well, and then up front, we were able to get pressure and get the ball out a little quicker than what we had the last couple of games.”
Minnesota hasn't settled on a starting quarterback this season, as coaches have gone back and forth between sophomore Philip Nelson and freshman Mitch Leidner.
Illness may make for an easy decision this week.
Claeys said Leidner, who has started the Gophers’ last two games, is sick and on medication, leaving his status in question.
“He’s at that point where it could get better or it could get worse,” Claeys said, also noting that coaches have a rule that if a player doesn't practice, he doesn't play.
“We’ll see how Mitch handles his medication, if he feels better.”
Leidner is completing 61.4 percent of his passes for 332 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Nelson, who has thrown three touchdowns and four interceptions, has a 53.9 percent completion rate.
Not getting his kicks
Those waiting to see Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland add to his legendary status by attempting a field goal may not get their wish.
Borland, tabbed last week by coach Gary Andersen as Wisconsin’s kicker for long field goals, left the Badgers’ victory at Illinois with a hamstring injury.
Wisconsin is idle this week, and Borland is expected to return for the Badgers’ Nov. 2 game at Iowa.
But Andersen is understandably leery about having his star defender risk further injury to his hamstring by kicking footballs.
“Why take the chance if you don’t have to?” Andersen said.
Borland, a former soccer player, made three extra points as a freshman in 2009 but has never attempted a field goal. Andersen said Borland was 7-of-8 on field goals in practice last week, with his longest make coming from 45 yards.
“I think everything Chris tries to do athletically, he’s very, very good at," Andersen said.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, a member of the tackle advisory committee with USA Football, knows the importance of teaching proper, safer tackling techniques to today’s youth.
But even players with the best intentions and best techniques are going to unintentionally err at times and pay what Fitzgerald and many others think is too steep a penalty for their mistakes.
On Saturday, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby was the second Big Ten player in as many weeks to be ejected under this season’s new targeting rule. Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste suffered the same fate the previous week.
“I've yet to hear a coach, I've yet to be around a coaching staff, that are teaching guys to try to target guys to hurt people,” Fitzgerald. “I think some of these players are getting into a tough position.”
That’s why Fitzgerald believes in a yellow-card system, in which players are warned once before being ejected for making what officials deem a violent hit.
“That wasn't what the rule committee decided to have this year,” Fitzgerald said. “They decided to make a very strong stance — when in doubt, throw the kids out. Unfortunately, some guys are learning a tough lesson.”