Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
I'm not sure exactly why, but I get the feeling the Gophers, still officially an underdog in Saturday's game against Michigan State, are going to pull off the upset.
I'm not alone. I think the margin by which MSU is favored is shrinking. I think it opened up about 6 or so points, but has dropped to about 4 1/2.
Yes, it's the first game without Decker, and I know the offense hasn't exactly been unstoppable of late. But I sense a confidence among the young receivers. I think MarQueis Gray will see a little more action this week. And I think Adam Weber is way due for a big game. Way due.
I want to talk a bit about offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. I liked the hire when it was made. I liked it even more after talking with some of the folks he worked for on his career path. I think he's bright, creative.
That said, is there an adjustment period with a first-time coordinator? Especially one coming from the pro ranks back to college? Yes. I personally believe maybe he threw a bit much at the players early on, especially the quarterbacks.
I think what he can do is limited by the offensive line as well. That is still a work in progress.
All that said, I still think this guy was a good hire and I look for the Gophers offense to be more efficient going forward. I believe that will start Saturday. The Michigan State defense is pretty good against the run, and weather conditions might dictate more running. Even so, I believe the Gophers will be able to move the ball through the air on the Spartans, who give up some passing yards and haven't made a ton of take-aways.
I think Fisch has a good gut when it comes to play-calling. If the Gophers can get better on third down, sustain some drives, I believe their confidence will go through the roof. I know recent games don't suggest this. Again, it's just a feeling.
All the Gophers coaches work hard, putting in a ton of hours. Fisch really works hard. Talking with Adam Weber this week, he was talking with some awe about how hard Fisch works. He looks tired, I can tell you that. Maybe that's why he had to work through a nasty cold the past couple weeks.
"I know what kind of person he is," Weber said of Fisch. "He's here all day, that's probably why he's sick all the time. I know it's hard on him. Again, he's been emphasizing the same thing. We have four more weeks, he still has 100 percent faith in our abilities."
Some other random thoughts:
--I'm impressed how well Weber and Gray work together in a competitive situation that might cause friction elsewhere. I think both guys are very loyal to the team and their teammates.
--Defensive end Derrick Onwuachi has missed practice the past two days. He nicked himself up during pregame in Ohio State but still played. Coach Tim Brewster described him as being a little gimpy, but they still hope he can play this week.
--Brewster isn't worried that kicker Eric Ellestad hasn't attempted a field goal in a while. In fact he's only had two in the last six games. Brewster said Ellestad has been incredibly accurate during practices.
--Brewster was asked today about Troy Stoudermire's sideline dustup with special teams coach John Butler last week. Again, Brewster chalked it up to high emotions. As for Stoudermire in the return game, Brewster said that last Saturday's bobble of the second-half kickoff -- and his difficulty fielding subsequent kickoffs -- will not affect him going forward. "If you spend two minutes with Troy, you understand he's a very confident young guy," Brewster said. "He's very confident in his ability and so I don't think there is any factor there."
That's about it. I know, I know, you folks will think I've been drinking the kool-aid here. But I really believe the Gophers are do for a more complete offensive effort this week. We'll see if I'm right.
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