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.
With the Gophers continuing to win under fourth-year coach Jerry Kill, the speculation was bound to start sometime. How long before another school tries to swoop him away?
This week, SI.com mentioned Kill as a potential fit at Michigan if Brady Hoke gets fired, saying Kill “would be a wonderful fit in Ann Arbor, as all he’s done is win at Southern Illinois and now Minnesota.”
Asked about the Michigan speculation Thursday on his weekly radio show, Kill told 100.3-FM, “Number one, Brady [Hoke] is my friend. And number two, that lady there is in charge.”
Kill was pointing to his wife, Rebecca, and has often said how much their family enjoys Minnesota.
“It's a compliment,” Kill said of the speculation. “But I've seen a lot of coaches get caught up in all of that stuff, and that's when you're not successful. I've said all along, this is my home. As long as people want me here, I'm in good shape.
“If we don't beat Illinois [on Saturday], they may be calling me in and there won't be any mention, except get a road map. So I think it’s more important for us to take care of that.”
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.
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