The Maryland football team isn’t exactly in the greatest standing in terms of their offense.
Minnesota’s strong defense could capitalize on that during Saturday’s meeting.
The Golden Gophers are the epitome of a throwback football team. They run the ball at a very high level and play great defense.
This may come as a surprise to some, but Minnesota currently owns the top defense in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers are allowing just six points-per-game and have yielded just three touchdowns.
Their pass defense is in the middle of the pack, but their run defense is their bread and butter. Minnesota is giving up just 59.0 yards-per-game on the ground, which should be an interesting matchup against Maryland given the Terrapins’ success running the football.
The Golden Gophers have plenty of very talented playmakers that could make life very difficult for the Terps this coming weekend.
Minnesota may have the most talent in their defensive backfield.
The Golden Gophers are currently surrendering just 4.8 yards-per-pass, which is the best mark in the conference. Minnesota has also recorded three interceptions on the year.
Junior cornerback Antonio Shenault leads the way for this group of defensive backs. Shenault was a track runner in high school and possesses the ability to fly all over the field.
He currently leads the team with 22 tackles (16 solo), two pass breakups, and two defended passes.
Shenault is very fast and plays the cornerback position as well as many players in the Big Ten. He often reads the run and short passes very well and can lay the big hit in the backfield.
He really flies around the field and is a strong tackler for the Golden Gophers.
It would seem likely that Shenault would draw the assignment of guarding Maryland star wideout D.J. Moore. Moore is arguably the best receiver in the Big Ten this season, so this will be the toughest challenge that Shenault has faced thus far.
Linebacker Jonathan Celestin is the unsung leader of the Golden Gophers defense and for good reason.
Celestin has seen substantial playing time since arriving at Minnesota. Even as a true freshman in 2014, he still registered 16 tackles (3.0 for loss) and forced a fumble despite not being a starter.
The Georgia native currently has 20 tackles (second on the team behind Shenault), two defended passes, two quarterback hurries, and a recovered fumble. Celestin had a monster game against Oregon State in which he accumulated a team-high 10 tackles and recovered a fumble in a 48-14 win over Oregon State.
Celestin is a very instinctive tackler that could end up leading Minnesota in that category. One of the undervalued parts of his game is his ability to drop back into pass coverage when necessary.
The senior linebacker has very active hands despite never recording an interception. He’s quick enough to shadow an opposing wide receiver or tight end.
When a program changes coaching staffs during a player’s career, it’s always a learning curve. However, the Golden Gophers have been arguably the most productive defense in the Big Ten and Celestin may be the top reason for that.
Antoine Winfield Jr.
Playing an elite defensive back is in the blood of Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr.
Winfield Jr. is the son of former NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield, who played 14 seasons professionally. He played mostly with the Minnesota Vikings before finishing off his career with the Seattle Seahawks.
Winfield Jr. definitely has a high level football pedigree that is translating well to the collegiate game.
The Texas native stepped in and started nine games for Minnesota in 2016. He registered 52 tackles (37 solo), three defended passes, two fumble recoveries, and an interception.
Winfield Jr. made his presence known against Maryland last October as he recorded five tackles (one for loss) and had an 82-yard interception return for touchdown. The interception was the fifth longest in Minnesota’s history.
He is a fundamentally sound tackler and is one of the best tacklers in the conference by far. When he makes contact with an offensive player with the football, it’s rare that the player gets away from Winfield Jr.
He’s had at least four tackles in each of Minnesota’s first three games this season. Winfield Jr. has recorded a sack and even blocked a field goal against Buffalo.
Maryland is definitely going to have their hands full with Minnesota’s secondary. Shenault and Winfield Jr. could be the most formidable duos that the Terps face in 2017.