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.
It was a little shocking, truth be told, at how badly Illinois played on Saturday. They couldn't run, their quarterbacks were harassed by one of the nation's most toothless (according to the stats) pass rushes, and their defense left huge holes for MarQueis Gray to run toward.
All of which made it difficult to tell how good the Gophers really played on Saturday. Even Gray wondered -- when asked if Minnesota was merely trying to chew up the clock in the second half, when their five possessions resulted in only seven points, the quarterback admitted, "I'd like to say we did, [but] we just had a couple of dropped balls, a couple of errors on my part. ... We should have scored more."
Still, it was an amazing performance by Gray, whose November (OK, save the ugliness against Wisconsin that Gopher fans have undoubtedly blocked out by now) in no way resembled his September.
"At the beginning of the season, I felt like I was doing too much, thinking too much," he said. Now, he's a confident decision-maker whose statistics (7 for 14 for 85 yards, plus 167 on the ground) would be even better if not for a couple of dropped passes.
After the game, though, it was all about the seniors, who received a nice farewell. Duane Bennett ran for 57 yards and another 32 on a kickoff. Kim Royston made 13 tackles, and finished with a flourish: His first career sack. Da'Jon McKnight had four catches, Collin McGarry one. Gary Tinsley had a sack. The defensive tackles -- Brandon Kirksey and Anthony Jacobs -- helped the Gophers hold Illinois to 82 rushing yards and 78 through the air.
"It's a great way to go out," Bennett said. "The seniors came out and led the way."
"It's a wonderful feeling. We played like we were at a bowl game," added Tinsley. "I loved every experience here."
Royston especially seemed to enjoy the moment, because until the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility, he didn't expect to by playing football again.
"I feel extremely blessed," he said. "It's definitely bittersweet, but no regrets. I could be working in a cubicle right now."
He'll try to make an NFL team next. Well, unless there's a rule change in college football.
"If they give me a seventh, eighth year," he said with a smile, "I would definitely come back."
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