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.
Gophers safety Cedric Thompson was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, after making two key interceptions in Saturday’s 39-38 victory over Purdue. Thompson returned Austin Appleby’s first pass to the 2-yard line, setting up a quick touchdown. And the second interception sealed the win.
Gophers freshman Ryan Santoso was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the week after hitting two field goals, including the 52-yard game-winner.
The honors came one week after the Big Ten named Gophers linebacker Damien Wilson co-defensive player of the week, and kick returner Jalen Myrick co-special teams player of the week.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys was thrilled with Thompson’s performance Saturday.
“It couldn’t happen to a better kid -- the time and effort he’s put in, not only to be a better player, but to be a leader since Brock [Vereen] left,” Claeys said. “You know, the counseling and visiting with kids, what he’s done, and to see that happen to him just makes you feel good.
“The old thing is that if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded. I definitely think that was part of his reward, I really do, for everything he’s put in and done for the kids. That’s what football’s all about.”
For those who haven’t read Thompson’s remarkable story, here it is.
The Gophers haven't cracked the AP Top 25 since 2008, and they're still waiting, after receiving enough votes Sunday to rank No. 28.
But the Gophers did move into the Top 25 in the Coaches Poll, coming in at No. 24. They were ranked No. 23 in the Coaches Poll last Nov. 17, when they were 8-2, before losing to Wisconsin.
They are 6-1 now and coming off a comeback victory over Purdue. They'll be favored to win again next week at Illinois.
Purdue came in as a 13 1/2-point underdog, but the Boilermakers have stunned the TCF Bank Stadium crowd, taking a 31-20 halftime lead. A few thoughts:
* Under Jerry Kill, the Gophers are 0-22 when trailing at halftime, 19-0 when leading at halftime, and 0-3 when tied.
* Minnesota’s defense over-pursued on some costly plays last week against Northwestern but still held the Wildcats to 17 points. Purdue studied that tape and has taken advantage – big time. The Gophers look shell-shocked on defense. Austin Appleby threw an interception on Purdue’s first offensive play, but the Boilermakers have scored on every possession since then.
* Minnesota’s early momentum changed on a big two-play sequence. Appleby threw another interception that would have been a pick six for Damien Wilson, but Theiren Cockran was flagged for offsides. On the next play, Appleby hit Danny Anthrop on a swing pass, and Anthrop raced 55 yards for the tying touchdown.
* The Gophers had a big officiating call go against them in the second quarter with Purdue leading 21-20. Anthrop appeared to catch a slant pass deep in Minnesota territory, and Antonio Johnson made a big hit, knocking the ball loose. Cedric Thompson picked up the ball and ran out to mid-field, but the officials blew the play dead as an incomplete pass. On the replay, Anthrop appeared to catch the ball and take two steps, but the play was upheld as an incomplete pass. Purdue turned that into a 26-yard field goal.
* David Cobb has 17 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown.
* The Gophers must have seen on tape that Purdue will bite for fakes on the zone read. Mitch Leidner has had several big runs after faking a hand-off. He has five carries for 55 yards.
The Gophers are 6-1 since the start of last season in games that start at 11 a.m., and they’ll need to be strong early risers again Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium against Purdue.
It’s homecoming, and the fraternity houses along University Avenue are all decked out with big, hand-made signs, but we’ll see how much energy the students have for kickoff.
My main story today analyzes the possibilities of the Gophers pulling the unthinkable and winning the Big Ten West. National analysts are saying it’s possible, and the team has a conference title atop its list of goals.
Here’s what happens if there’s a tie atop the standings at regular season’s end, with a look a the division’s top five contenders.
Obviously, the Gophers must first focus on Purdue. Here’s my prediction for the game.
And here’s a column from Patrick Reusse on Jack Lynn, the “other guy” at linebacker, who’s underrated performance has been a big key for the defense.
Check back here for pregame updates.
The jet sweep seemed like a transformative play for the Gophers last season. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover used it as part of a diverse game plan against Nebraska, with Donovahn Jones rushing four times for 42 yards. Jones finished the year with 16 carries for 73 yards.
This year, the Gophers haven't used the jet near as much. Jones has two rushes for 13 yards. Last week, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover explained.
“Well I think it's with a lot of things," he said. "I look back in the NFL a couple of years ago, the wildcat [formation] was popular,” he said. “The Dolphins were doing it, and eventually people catch up and do their homework. The jet sweep package is good at times, but you can't make your living in that. You’ve got to pick your spots.
"We try and find a couple of spots each game, or a couple of formations, that we can do it out of. But the defenses have caught up with some of that stuff. They see those things happening and can react quicker.
"If you look at the teams that have had success over the last couple of years -- you know, watching Wisconsin play Northwestern, I don't know if they actually handed the ball on a jet action. They maybe did it once with Melvin Gordon as a fake. It's getting harder to find those spots where [defenses] can't read and react.
"It's just like the zone read in the NFL or wildcat. People catch up with you so you got to get ahead of the curve and find that next thing that will keep them off balance."
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