MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Michael Carter has given the Gophers the kind of shutdown cornerback they’ve been missing for years.
Finally, the senior has flourished and there was no better evidence of his progress than on Saturday, when Purdue came out for the second half facing a huge deficit with no way to try to catch up but through the air.
Caleb TerBush tried to throw to Gary Bush three times in a four-play span, and Carter got his hand on all three incompletions, diving in front of Bush on the last one to knock the pass to the turf.
Then on the next snap, with the Boilermakers facing third-and-10 at their own 35-yard line, the undaunted TerBush turned to Bush again. This time, Carter made a cat-quick break for the ball and snatched it before Bush could touch it, then sped on to the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown return to give the Gophers a 41-7 lead.
“This is my 30th year of coaching, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a corner have things go like that,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “But it was great.”
Was Carter surprised TerBush kept targeting his man?
“Yeah, but it really don’t matter. I like the ball thrown my way so I can make a play,” Carter said. “That’s just how I feel.”
Carter, who is from Pompano Beach, Fla., was limited to six starts and two interceptions over his first three years because of inconsistency and a lack of commitment. He finished Saturday afternoon with a program-record-tying six pass breakups. The last Gophers player with that many was Michael Lehan in a 2001 game against Michigan State.
“I just felt like I was in a zone,” Carter said.
He was named co-winner of the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Week award on Monday. Carter is tied for the team lead with two interceptions, and his 13 pass breakups are by far the most for the Gophers (5-3, 1-3).
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Carter has formed a credible coverage duo with fellow senior cornerback Troy Stoudermire, and the Gophers have enjoyed solid performances from their young safeties, too. Minnesota is seventh among the 120 teams at the FBS level in yards passing allowed, second in the Big Ten behind Michigan, this Saturday’s opponent. That’s almost unfathomable for anyone who has followed the Gophers for the last quarter-century. Finding capable defensive backs has always been a challenge here.
“Michael’s been progressing ever since we started spring football. He’s been having a great season so far,” Stoudermire said after the Purdue game. “I’m really comfortable when I look on the other side and see Mike over there. I know it’s going to be shut down, just like it is on my side.”
Said Carter, with a big smile from the other side of the podium: “True.”
Carter credited his work with the coaching staff in preparation for the Boilermakers to identify tendencies in their passing game, but the source of his improvement this season is a deeper story than that.
His cousin, Tyrone Carter, is one of the best to ever roam the secondary for the Gophers, an All-American and Jim Thorpe Award winner in 1999 who played 11 seasons in the NFL. Kill not too long ago asked Tyrone to have a heart-to-heart talk with his younger cousin, who has struggled with attitude and focus both in class and football since he was recruited by former coach Tim Brewster and came to campus in 2009.
The gist of their chat was this: Tyrone didn’t see much maturity in Michael. He urged him to make some improvements before his career was over.
“Tyrone, he’s been around me my whole life, just to get that clear,” Michael said. “But when he actually sat down and talked to me from a man-to-man perspective, I just was like a sponge and soaked in everything.”
Kill and the Gophers are grateful for Tyrone’s guidance.
“I probably wasn’t the most mature kid when I was 18, 19, 20 years old. I made my share of mistakes,” Kill said, adding: “I think that his family’s been a strong influence. I just think that discipline and doing the little things has made a difference for the young man.”
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