The Gophers allowed seven plays of 20-plus yards, 481 total yards, six touchdowns and forced only one punt, with no takeaways, in a 49-24 loss to the now-13th-ranked Wolverines.
Minnesota had to replace seven starters from 2019, and it showed early as three of the newcomers — defensive end Esezi Otomewo, linebacker Cody Lindenberg and safety Tyler Nubin — had breakdowns to allow Michigan’s Zach Charbonnet to run straight down the field untouched for a 70-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
“Some of the guys were under the lights for the first time,” Rossi said. “I think there was some hesitation on their part on some diagnosing of plays and reaction. I think sometimes that is to be expected — not to be tolerated.”
Rossi identified key issues his defense had on Saturday:
Lindenberg was the biggest surprise starter on Saturday. The true freshman was not a highly rated recruit coming out of Anoka in the 2020 class. But with Braelen Oliver injured, Lindenberg beat out older players Donald Willis and James Gordon for the job.
“Obviously, first game, there were some mistakes,” Rossi said. “Overall I thought he played well. He has a very bright future. I think he keys and diagnoses and sees things, but as you see him go, I think each week we will see him make tremendous strides.”
Another player expected to improve quickly is safety Tyler Nubin, who is stepping in for Antoine Winfield Jr. He led Minnesota with eight tackles Saturday, and fellow safety Jordan Howden was tied for second with five.
Their lower level of play, however, didn’t match those higher numbers.
“On all three levels our defense needs to be better,” Rossi said. “I need to coach better. The staff needs to coach better. The players need to play better. That wasn’t acceptable. I think in the back end (at safety), we’ve got to do a better job of taking angles. We have to do a better job of fitting runs.”
Senior cornerback Coney Durr has been encouraging Nubin, a sophomore.
“He’s going to be — I don’t tell him that — but he’s going to be a pretty good player,” Durr said. “I just try to tell him don’t try to force anything. Play within your game and just let the game come to you. … The biggest thing with us is communicating and knowing our assignments and just being able to play fast. I just feel like we need to be able to play fast and showcase our talents.”