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.
How time-consuming is the job of turning around the Gophers' football program? The answer was on Jerry Kill's upper lip -- where his mustache used to be.
"Time's valuable. I didn't have time to trim it, so I just whapped 'er off," Kill said Saturday after more than two hours of scrimmaging in TCF Bank Stadium.
He's not the only one working hard. Kill said his players have been pushed hard for two weeks, and "some of them are so dead-dog tired now, they can't get from one step to another."
He was pleased, though, with Saturday's effort, roughly 120 snaps that got everyone involved, he said. The Gophers did their first two-minute drills, gave three different quarterbacks the opportunity to lead drives, and happened upon dozens of "teachable moments."
That's a euphemism for mistakes, of course, and Kill lectured his players about how many they were making. Penalties were a problem -- false starts inside the 5 yard line gave the coach ample reason to run a series of "up-downs," which the offensive players endured all day -- and there were plenty of technique breakdowns and bad decisions.
"Jumping offsides on the 2-yard line, crap like that, it's not acceptable," Kill said, "but until you put them in those situations and make it tough on them, you don't get that."
There were some positive signs, too, he said. "The defensive line got up the field a lot more than we have been. [It was] a lot more aggressive," Kill said. "And we need that. We need more push. We had nine sacks last year, and that can't happen."
A few more observations from a cloudy day in TCF Bank Stadium:
-- The defense seemed to have a far better day than the offense. Right from the start, in the Gophers' 2nd-and-8 drills in which the offense has two plays to pick up the first down, the defense came up with one big play after another. Five straight "series" ended without a first down.
-- Johnny Johnson had an interception, and a couple of series later, Michael Carter broke well on a Tom Parish pass to Logan Hutton, making the interception and then zig-zagging across the field into the end zone for a touchdown.
-- Brandon Kirksey blocked a Chris Hawthorne field-goal try, and Da'Jon McKnight smothered a punt. But Kill wasn't disappointed by the breakdowns; as he pointed out, the same coaches in charge of the punt team are in charge of the punt-block team, too, and his teams have a history of blocking kicks.
-- McKnight also made a nice running catch -- had to slow down for it, actually -- of a MarQueis Gray pass down the middle, a 45-yard gain.
-- Marcus Jones caught a 10-yard pass from Gray across the middle for a score, and Duane Bennett got to the edge and up the left side for a 15-yard touchdown run.
-- Kyle Henderson may be only 5-10 and perhaps 180 pounds, but he can hit. He tackled receiver Logan Hutton so hard, he picked him up and slammed him to the turf.
-- Kill, frustrated by Donnell Kirkwood's footwork at one point: "Give me a tailback who can run the ball!"
-- In addition to his two interceptions, Tom Parish fumbled a snap, something he's done in every practice this week. Parish ran three series early in practice, and sophomore Moses Alipate quarterbacked three series late, getting both backups some repetitions. Gray, the first-string QB, practiced the two-minute offense for the first time this spring.
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