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.
The Gophers' long plane ride home will be a quiet one, Jerry Kill said after watching his players drench themselves in disappointment after Saturday's 19-17 loss to Southern California.
But I'm guessing Minnesota's victory-hungry fans don't consider themselves 0-1.
The first quarter of the 2011 season was a disaster, with players appearing hesitant, confused, or "just darn lethargic," as Kill put it. The game started with a false-start penalty, MarQueis Gray fumbled on the second play (though Ed Olson recovered the ball), and a 51-yard field goal was blocked.
That was just the first series. Then things got worse.
The second "drive" went backwards, as the Gophers lose yards on three straight plays, then somehow incurred a delay-of-game penalty -- on a PUNT.
Meanwhile, Trojans Matt Barkley and Robert Woods were having a nice game of catch, picking up yards a eight or 10 at a time. Woods finished with 17 catches, Barkley 34 completions, both setting USC records, and the Gopher defense was so confused, they twice had 12 men on the field, once drawing a penalty and once burning a time out.
Yet through all that, the Gophers didn't quit, even when they went to halftime trailing 19-3 and knowing USC would receive the second-half kick.
"Give them credit -- they bowed up and we competed our tails off in the second half," Kill said. "If we had played with that confidence and intensity in the first half, maybe it would have been a different story. I complimented them on their effort, and we'll build on it."
The Trojans moved the ball 38 yards before launching a fourth-down snap over Barkley's head, a 32-yard turnover on towns that Gray quickly turned into Minnesota's first touchdown of the season. He completed a 17-yard pass to Eric Lair, ran for four yards himself, then handed the ball to Duane Bennett for a nine-year score.
The defense didn't allow USC a point in the second half, though Lane Kiffin said it had to do as much with his team as Minnesota's. "You get a little out of rhythm at some point when [Woods] wears down, and it throws your offense off a bit," Kiffin said.
And the two-point margin of victory? "That's what's really confusing about all this," Kiffin said. "I didn't see it going this way. We just didn't master some situations, and didn't make two fourth downs."
The Gophers like to think they had something to do with that. And they have to like the potential they showed today, even in disappointment.
"Coach [Jay] Sawvel grabbed me [at the end] and said, 'Gosh.' I know, I know, we'll play it back 100 times" in frustration, Kill said. "But we've got to do a better job. We had some adversity, but they bowed up and got after it. And they listened. That tells me there's a lot of them that bought in."
Probably a lot of fans, too. Even in defeat, a victory.
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