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The Gophers' best pass rushing effort in five years helped the whole defense put on a show in last season's win against West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

The defense recorded five sacks against the Mountaineers, the most for the team since a six-sack performance against Nebraska in 2017.

From that QB wrecking crew last season, two-time Gophers sack leader Boye Mafe is now playing in the NFL. So is Esezi Otomewo, who had two sacks in the bowl victory.

As Big Ten play begins for them Saturday at Michigan State, the Gophers (3-0) hope to see more pass rushing talent emerge from a defense that has been dominant in just about every other area.

"We're going to have to get way more pass rushers as we get into the Big Ten," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said after last week's 49-7 win against Colorado. "We got some really talented young guys, and you're starting to see them show up for us."

Fleck and his coaching staff emphasized during the Colorado week how critical it would be for the Gophers to bring pressure off the edge against their first Power Five opponent.

Through three games, the U ranks 12th in the Big Ten with six sacks, but three of them came against the Buffaloes, including a sack fumble after a corner blitz from Terrell Smith.

Senior Thomas Rush, who had 5½ sacks last season, has one sack through three games. Sophomores Danny Striggow and Jalen Logan-Redding have two sacks and one, respectively.

Fleck recognizes that his younger defensive linemen already look the part physically but just need more experience to gain confidence, including sophomore Jah Joyner.

"Jah's got to keep coming," Fleck said. "If he keeps coming and keeps getting better, he's one of the hardest people to block on our football team. Our offensive line hates to block the guy because he can contort his body. He's so wide and long … you just can't get a good grip on him."

A 6-5, 250-pound Long Lake native, Striggow remembers meeting with defensive coordinator Joe Rossi and his position coach about making sure "the standard doesn't go down" from Mafe, who led the team with seven sacks last year. The Gophers were 10th in the conference with 25 sacks overall.

"We have to get the pass rush game going," Striggow said. "Finishing those rushes. Getting to the level of the quarterback. … If the first move doesn't work, hit another move. Just always making progress toward the quarterback."

In 2019, the Gophers were sixth in the Big Ten with 28 sacks in 13 games, but they had no individual ranked among top 20. Sam Renner led the team with five sacks that year.

The last Gopher to record double-digit QB takedowns in a season was Willie VanDeSteeg with 10½ sacks in 2008. Carter Coughlin was close to that mark with 9½ sacks in 2018.

Life without a one-man sack threat like Mafe means the Gophers likely need to work as a unit to disrupt Michigan State's passing game. Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne passed for 323 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 39-28 loss at Washington.

Making their presence felt in the pass rush Saturday could be the difference for the Gophers defense showing it can slow opponents down in the Big Ten, too.

"I believe all we've got to do is execute the game plan," interior lineman Trill Carter said. "We've got a chance to showcase that we can pass rush instead of just doing the things that we did in the past."