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.
BTN passed along an interesting statistic this week that demonstrates the lack of explosiveness of Minnesota's offense. Not since DeLeon Eskridge's 46-yard touchdown run at Illinois on Oct. 11, 2008 -- that's 41 games ago -- has a Gopher, any Gopher, picked up 40 or more yards on a single rush.
In other words, the Gophers have run 1,427 running plays in the three years and a month since then, and never broken a truly big play. It's a remarkable slump, the longest in the nation and amazing in its consistency. Every Big Ten team except Minnesota had a long run (and most teams had several) in 2009, every team except Minnesota and Northwestern had one last year, and every team except Minnesota and Michigan State have had one this season.
Duane Bennett has been a Gopher tailback throughout that streak, and 342 of those carries are his. Yet here's the weird part: Bennett, a senior from St. Louis who will play his final road game Saturday at Northwestern, has been a big-play guy throughout his career.
Just not on straight rushes.
Sure, he's got a couple of those, too, a 44-yard romp during his freshman season in 2007, and a 61-yard gain early in the 2008 season, before redshirting. But Bennett's resume includes a few electrifying moments that didn't start with a handoff.
"It's been a great experience here, for me to have different ways to score touchdowns," Bennett said.
He's got a touchdown pass -- after taking a pitch from Adam Weber last year against Northwestern, Bennett pulled up and threw an 8-yard completion to Eric Lair in the end zone.
He's got a blocked punt -- Bennett knocked down a Zac Murphy punt against Miami (Ohio) back in September, and fell on the ball in the end zone, providing the decisive points in Minnesota's 29-23 victory.
And on Saturday, he took a kickoff at the 4 and zoomed untouched into the end zone 96 yards away, his first career kick-return score. "It took forever, three days to get to the end zone," Bennett joked. "It was exciting, but it was a team effort. Without everybody getting their blocks, Duane Bennett doesn't go 94 yards."
Still, that's a lot of highlights, quite a legacy for his five seasons at Minnesota. And with two games remaining, Bennett needs only 45 more yards to become the 13th Gopher to ever rush for 2,000 career yards.
"Man, it all seems like a brief moment," he said. "Hopefully with my five years, I've passed on a message of being a diligent student of the game and being a competitor to the younger guys."
Is there anything else he'd like to accomplish as a Gopher?
"Maybe play defense," he joked. "Try to get an interception return" for a touchdown.
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