Last year, the Oregon State football team got a live look at the Minnesota defense.

The Gophers were particularly strong up front, and it showed as they had nine tackles for loss, four sacks and held the Beavers to 89 yards rushing.

Darell Garretson, who started at quarterback last season, knows all too well how tough the Gophers can be on defense.

Garretson threw for 228 yards and three scores but was pummeled by the pass rush.

"I think they're athletic on the edges, just like they were last year," Garretson said. "They've got good linebackers again, so we've just got to play our game and take what they give us."

By the end of the season, the Gophers had grown even stronger. They shut down Washington State en route to a 17-12 win in the Holiday Bowl.

Minnesota has a new coaching staff and defensive coordinator in Robb Smith, but the defense is pretty much the same.

Last week, the Gophers held Buffalo to 262 total yards — 51 on the ground —in a 17-7 victory.

"Last year, they were a big, physical team and I've seen some changes in their linebacker corps," OSU running back Ryan Nall said earlier this week. "It seems like they moved to more of a smaller, faster defense, and it looked from that game that they had last week that they were moving around, flying around the field. It's going to be a tough matchup."

The run defense stands out for the Gophers, who like to get physical and dominate the line of scrimmage in the run game.

"Schematically, they're a little different (but) they're not dramatically different," OSU co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach T.J. Woods said. "They've got good players and they take pride in stopping the run, so it will be a good challenge for us."

The Gophers return several key players on defense, including linebacker Jonathan Celestin, who had 80 total tackles, seven for loss and 2.5 sacks last season.

Also back is defensive tackle Steven Richardson, who was a wrecking machine up front for the Gophers in 2016 with 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

"Number 96, Richardson, and I know his name, so that means he's pretty damn good," Woods said. "Usually I only know the numbers. We've been battling against him for quite some time. He's a real good player.

"So we'll be challenged up front. I'm excited for that. I think it's time for our guys to step up against a good unit."

OSU left tackle Blake Brandel wants the challenge and said playing against a top defense can raise the play of the Beavers.

"You've never supposed to play down to the level of your opponent, you're always supposed to be playing at your same no matter who your opponent is," Brandel said. "But you kind of have an extra sense of urgency when it's a Big Ten opponent known for their big guys up front. So we're all excited."

Brandel likes the idea of playing a Big Ten opponent, particularly at home on a Saturday night.

"It's a good stage to do it on," Brandel said. "Especially for these newer guys. Have a home environment. Colorado State was a great away environment, packed out stadium (and) those fans were loud. So now we get to have our fans on our side."

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