We have completed our analysis of depth on the offensive side of the ball and now move over to the defense. We concluded our analysis of the offense feeling good about the future direction of the offense as a unit. As a result, the success of the Gophers in future years will hinge on the growth and development of our defense. We will begin by examining one of the Gophers key defensive deficiencies, the defensive end position. It has become abundantly clear over the course of the past decade that putting pressure on the quarterback is paramount to success at both the collegiate and pro level. I want to highlight the importance of the defensive end position by highlighting the importance of getting pressure on the quarterback. The quickest measurement for teams that successfully pressure the quarterback is the number of sacks, so here is a breakdown of teams with the most sacks and their corresponding W-L record during the 2011 season.
Texas A&M 51 sacks - 7-6
Cincinnati 46 sacks - 10-3
Michigan St. 45 sacks - 11-3
Oregon 44 sacks - 12-2 played in BCS Rose Bowl
Pittsburgh 42 sacks - 6-7
Virginia Tech 41 sacks - 11-3 played in BCS Sugar Bowl
Florida St. 40 sacks - 9-4
Stanford 39 sacks - 11-2 played in BCS Fiesta Bowl
LSU 39 sacks - 13-1 played in BCS National Championship
Georgia 35 sacks - 10-4
Of all 10 of the BCS Bowl teams, only Wisconsin and Clemson ranked outside the Top 30 of teams in number of sacks, and they were 54th and 61st respectively. To further enhance this point, Wisconsin and Clemson both lost their bowl games and gave up 45 and 70 points respectively in their bowl games, which highlights that the weakest pass rushing teams suffered the most. I do not think it is a coincidence that the teams on the list above had outstanding seasons, with the exceptions of Texas A&M and Pittsburgh. During 2011, all the Gophers defensive ends combined tallied a mighty cumulative 5.5 sacks. Based on my research, there were 24 individual defensive ends that tallied 8 or more sacks by themselves! If you include defensive tackles and linebackers there were 42 players that had 8 or more sacks by themselves. If the Gophers want to take the next step as a program they need to find a way to put pressure on the quarterback. The question is whether we have players on the roster that can do that. Let us take a look!
Jerry Kill has repeatedly spoken of his commitment to get to the quarterback and consequently has emphasized injecting speed into the position. As a result, the youngsters Amaefula, Perry and Cockran are poised to garner most of the playing time. We saw this begin last year with Perry and Amaefula overtaking Garin, Wilhite and McGhee for the starting positions. The good news is that Amaefula and Perry are only sophomores this year, but already have full seasons of experience under their belt. In addition, Cockran is still a freshman, so we need to hope they all continue to show progression. We really did not bring in any dynamic defensive end recruits in the 2012 class, so the near future is really riding on the ability of Amaefula, Perry and Cockran to show significant progress. Garin, Wilhite and McGhee will provide some reasonable depth to the position, but they simply lack the ability to consistently get to the quarterback. Plus, they are all upperclassmen, so it seems Kill is already looking to the future. This position remains a major question mark to me and I will continue to state that the future of the Gophers becoming relevant primarily rests on the Gophers ability to generate production from our defensive ends. 2012 will be a big year to see if we do have the necessary playmakers at the defensive end spots to begin rebuilding a defense that has been in shambles these past few years.