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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Kickoff coverage is a Gopher talent

Posted by: Phil Miller under College football Updated: November 4, 2011 - 11:43 AM

     Jerry Kill has an opinion of why Minnesota beat Iowa, and it might not be what you expect.
     "We won that game because we played well on special teams," the Gophers' coach said. "We got the onside kick. We net-punted 38 yards per punt. Kickoff coverage was good -- 4.0 hangtime on kickoffs. That's pretty good."
     The Gophers actually lead the Big Ten in covering kicks. On average, a Gopher opponent begins its drive following a kickoff on its own 23; no other Big Ten team averages better than the 25-yard line.
     Even better, the Iowa game reversed a damaging trend for the Gophers. Only once did the Hawkeyes begin a drive less than 60 yards from the end zone, a second-quarter possession that began after Iowa recovered a Duane Bennett fumble near midfield.
     By contrast, Nebraska had two such drives, while Purdue and Michigan started from close range four times apiece. All three previous opponents also scored a defensive touchdown, something Iowa never did.
     "Iowa had 250-some yards from one back (Marcus Coker's 252 rushing yards), but they had to go a ways to" the end zone, Kill said. "They weren't on a short field. Nebraska was on a short field. If we could have kept Nebraska on a long field, the gap would have narrowed."
     Good field position is a huge advantage that is overlooked by the casual fan. "If you get the ball on the 40, you should score points, really," Kill said, and Minnesota's opponents have done so eight times in 11 opportunities in Big Ten play, twice missing field goals. "That's why we work on special teams hard. We have to win the kicking game or you can forget it. We're not going to win. We need to make them go 70 or 80 yards."
 

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