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.

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Gophers stressing red zone, third downs

Posted by: Phil Miller under College football Updated: September 22, 2011 - 11:06 AM

     If the Gophers' offense has a particular emphasis this week, it's on critical-yardage situations. Not allowing drives to stall in the red zone, converting third downs, simply executing when it matters most.
     "When we've been under pressure, we've had a few mistakes," said left guard Chris Bunders. "And we can't allow that to happen."
     The statistics say that Minnesota is in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in converting red-zone chances, with 11 scores in 13 trips so far. Sounds impressive, as does the Gophers' 5-for-5 conversion rate last Saturday. But look a little closer, and you can see there's work to be done. Against New Mexico State, the Gophers failed to score on fourth down from the 1 yard line, a missed opportunity that arguably cost the Gophers that victory.
     And the five scores against Miami? Three of them were field goals, two of them following drives that ended inside the RedHawks' 10.
     "We need to score as many points as we can, and we're not doing it yet," Bunders said. "Everything tightens down in there, and we have to deal with that. We have to work on moving the ball -- not just take shots at the end zone, but be able to look at the coach and say, 'All right, run the ball. We'll get it there.' "
     That mentality is missing on third downs, too, and those statistics aren't nearly so kind. The Gophers have picked up first downs on third-down plays just 28.2 percent of the time, worst in the Big Ten. And that's with a mobile, 245-pound quarterback to turn to.
     "It shouldn't just be up to MarQueis. All of us need to step it up on third down," said left end Ed Olson. "Coach [Matt Limegrover, the offensive coordinator] has stressed being a lot more nasty in there. Just get it done."
     Wait, nasty? That's the secret? "Sometimes, yeah," Olson said with a smile. "I can turn it on on the field." 

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