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.
MarQueis Gray is a dangerous weapon when he tucks the football and runs, but he needs to become a more efficient passer. So Minnesota football coaches, with some free time available between recruiting season and spring practice, looked around the country for examples of mobile quarterbacks who blossomed as pass-throwers as their careers went on.
Turns out, Baylor had one last season, an offensive machine that you don't have to be a football coach to have heard of. Which is how three Gopher assistant coaches came to spend a few days last week in Waco, Texas.
"We liked what they did with Robert Griffin III, with what they put on his plate," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said of the Bears' Heisman Trophy winner. "We had seen him play the year before, and he made a real nice jump from 2010 to 2011 -- I think a lot of people would like to have a year like that, wouldn't they?"
Um, yeah. Griffin had one of the great passing seasons in NCAA history, completing 72.4 percent of his passes, racking up 4,239 yards, and throwing for 37 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Not too bad.
Nobody is demanding that Gray turn into a Heisman threat, of course, not even close. But coach Jerry Kill's staff wanted some tips on drawing more production out of their senior quarterback, who outgained Griffin on the ground, 966 yards (and a 4.9-yard-per-carry average) to 699 (and a 3.9 average), but barely completed half of his passes and threw for just 1,469 yards and eight scores.
"They really did some things to help [Griffin] be successful, so we felt like that was a good thing to look at," Limegrover said. Quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski, receivers coach Pat Poore and offensive graduate assistant Daryl Agpalsa headed to Baylor to meet with Bears' coaches.
That's what passes for a vacation in college football, a sport where everyone is looking for the next great idea. LImegrover himself, along with running backs coach Brian Anderson, tight ends coach Rob Reeves and quality-control coach Nate Griffin, drove to Ames, Iowa, on Friday to share ideas, and once Cincinnati begins spring practice in early March, he and Kill hope to fly to Ohio to watch.
"It's a rite of spring," Limegrover said. "From a week after signing day to about mid-March, a lot of guys are on the move. We just finished up watching all of last season again with our [situational] cut-ups -- kind of figuring out, here's what we did well, here's what we didn't, here's what we need to chop, here's what we need to emphasize. You get that done, and you go, OK, maybe these people have a wrinkle we could look at."
Many times, they do. Even during a rushed transition last spring, Gopher offensive coaches found time to visit Fort Worth to learn about TCU's shotgun offense. "One of our most effective play-action [passes] last year we got from that trip in February," Limegrover said. "We had a chance to spend some time with them talking about it, tweaked it to fit our players and what we needed from it, and it really turned out to be a good protection scheme for us."
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