MINNEAPOLIS – The thousand mile distance between Big Ten Country and South Texas where Jack Gibbens grew up has never been too far for a budding linebacker to dream of someday playing in the heat of the moment.
Gibbens finally had his chance this season with Minnesota.
The transfer of the Abilene Christian graduates thrived amid a defense that gave the Gophers a big boost in their rise to first place in the Big Ten West Division.
âI like trying to stop the race. I like to see teams trying to race. It’s been super fun playing against her, since the spring playing against our offense every day, âsaid Gibbens, who is second on the team with 51 tackles. “I love this style of football in the Big Ten.”
Minnesota are second in the conference and eighth in the FBS with an average of 93 rushing yards allowed per game, but the work is just beginning.
The Gophers (6-2, 4-1) host Illinois on Saturday, as defending Chase Brown becomes their top priority. Brown is third in the Big Ten in rushing, with two 200-yard games to his name already this year. Only three other FBS actors did so in 2021.
New coach Bret Bielema is back where he belongs in the West Division, bringing the same shattering attack he encouraged in Wisconsin a decade ago. The Illini’s used that to win at Penn State two weeks ago in a nine-hour overtime slugfest.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for him and the way he does it,” said Gophers coach PJ Fleck, who is 3-1 against Illinois since joining Minnesota in 2017.
The Illini (3-6, 2-4), like the Gophers this season, rely on an experienced offensive line. They love their blockers so much that they even released a seven-player lineman package against Penn State.
The Gophers also have a confident squad, having clearly passed the mess of their race defense in 2020. Gibbens and Mariano Sori-Marin solidified linebacker spots. The defensive line runs as deep as it has been in years, with Clemson transfer Nyles Pinckney playing a vital role in tackling.
“Every week it gets harder and harder to win soccer games as the season progresses. For us to be complacent, in my opinion, that would be just ridiculous, so we always train to get better. Said defensive coordinator Joe Rossi.
NOVEMBER TO REMEMBER
The Gophers also led the division around this time as well two years ago, when they beat Penn State to go undefeated before losing to Iowa, winning at Northwestern and losing to Wisconsin to see the Badgers win the game. conference championship.
Quarterback Tanner Morgan, one of the 2019 squad’s many starters, mentioned the losses as a lesson for the Gophers entering that home stretch. This time, they start November against Illinois and travel to Indiana between the game against Iowa and the final against Wisconsin.
âIf you think about the future or look back on what you’ve done or something like that, you’ve just left the door open for teams to fight,â Morgan said.
Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters, who lost the starting job and recovered it when Art Sitkowski broke his arm against Penn State, scored 14 for 19 for 190 yards and two touchdowns last week against Rutgers. Bielema had a frank conversation with the sixth-year before the game.
“I said, ‘If you want to play and keep thinking about playing beyond here, that’s it,” “Bielema said. âYou have to do it or it won’t happen. So let’s just let it all hang out. ‘â
The Illini’s saw their last practice cut short at the 34-yard line with 1:08 left in the 20-14 loss to Rutgers. In three more losses, the Illini also had the ball in the end less than a point but failed against UTSA (37-30), Maryland (20-17) and Purdue (13-9).
LECAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN
The Gophers are reduced to two healthy stock running backers, freshmen Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas, after three late-season injuries and a departure through the transfer portal. Irving and Thomas have both passed the 100-yard mark in each of the last two games, but depth in that position remains precarious.
Enter Derik LeCaptain, a backup linebacker and special teams ace who joined the program as a backup in 2019 and received a scholarship in preseason camp. LeCaptain had 5,199 career rushing yards at Southern Door High School in Wisconsin, so his experience made him a natural fit for the change of position. LeCaptain had a 24-yard touchdown run last week against Northwestern, which made the Minnesota sideline burst into joy.
âDerek LeCaptain is just one of the best guys you’ll ever meet,â Gibbens said. âHe deserves everything he gets. You see how hard he works, and then it pays off on Saturday. It’s like the perfect example of when you do the right things all the time.