2020 Rossi vs 2018 Smith DC Comps Are Valid but Fleck Doesn’t Seem Concerned

PHOTO: MARK VANCLEAVE • STAR TRIBUNE


The Minnesota Gophers defense has been terrible this season, giving up 94 (47 avg) points and 1146 (573) total yards in their first two games of the 2020 season. Yikes.

It’s been so bad that many are looking back and comparing the 2020 Joe Rossi defense to that of Robb Smith’s in 2018, which got the then-Minnesota DC fired mid-season. Joe Rossi replaced him and everything was history after he righted the ship that season and then followed with a great 2019 campaign… or so we thought.

Through two games, the 2020 Rossi vs 2018 Smith comparisons are completely valid… if not unfair to Robb Smith. In 2018 Big Ten play under Smith (6 games), the Gophers gave up an average of 508 yards and 43 points per game. Both metrics are better than the 2020 Gophers defense, as shown above.

PJ Fleck Not Concerned

When asked today, about Rossi’s evolution as a coach and his status going forward… PJ didn’t beat around any bushes. He clearly loves Joe Rossi as a person and as a coach and says his players do too. If you were hoping to see Rossi walking off the U of M campus for good, it’s not happening anytime soon.



Of course, major college football is a day-to-day business and anything can happen, if the Gophers continue to lose games because their defense can’t stop other Big Ten teams from hanging 50 on them.

Improvement is a must

From what we have seen so far out of this Minnesota Gophers defense, it can only get better from here. It needs to happen fast, though. Today, PJ Fleck talked a lot about a young defense who is usually in the right position but not doing the little things it takes to finish plays. That means taking correct angles, staying on the outside shoulder and forcing ball carriers into your help. Then, swarm to the ball and tackle.

“Saying” is always easier than “doing”, however. If Joe Rossi is as good of a teacher/coach as PJ Fleck claims him to be, then we should start seeing incremental improvement fast. We also have 2019 data to fall back on.

Last season, Rossi’s defense struggled at times early in the schedule. They gave up 30+ points in WEEKS 2, 3 and 4 (Fresno St, Georgia Southern and Purdue). After week 4 however, the Gopher defense didn’t surrender 30 points again until they got blown up for 38 by the Badgers in a WEEK 12 loss.

Joe Rossi’s 2018 turnaround a blessing and curse

Like Fleck, I’m willing to give Joe Rossi the benefit of the doubt because of the year he had in 2019 and how quickly he turned around that 2018 defense, after he took over. But that’s part of the problem too… Rossi has proven how quickly a new DC can turn things around for a struggling defense.

Robb Smith’s defense was bad back in 2018 (as mentioned above)…. but look what happened after Fleck made the change to Rossi.


2018 Defense vs B1G + Bowl GameYds/GmPts/Gm
Robb Smith (6 gms)50843
Joe Rossi (4 gms)36015

Let’s see what Rossi can do to turn this boat around. If Joe’s 1.5 seasons as Minnesota Gophers DC tells us anything, it’s that we should start seeing improvement very soon. If so, wins will follow… but if not, nothing is guaranteed.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan