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.
There's plenty more coverage of Thursday's 30-17 Gopher victory in Saturday's paper, but I wanted to add a couple more points here. Specially, about special teams.
They weren't so special for the Gophers in the opener, and it was a surprise how much trouble they had. Then again, they didn't know exactly who was going to play until gametime.
That was the situation at punter, anyway. Coach Jerry Kill decided to make a change at the position, leaving Dan Orseske, who had kicked 109 of the Gophers' 112 punts the past two seasons, off the 70-man traveling roster. But Kill had trouble settling on which of his other three punters would take Orseske's starting spot.
"I went out and watched them warm up, scratching my head," Kill said. "It's a hard thing, because nobody just stepped out there."
He settled on David Schwerman, who had served as Orseske's backup last year, but the move was only temporary. When Schwerman's second punt traveled only 19 yards, Kill switched to Australian Christian Eldred.
"I thought Christian did a good job. He kept the ball on the pooches inside the 20," Kill said of Eldred, who averaged 36.8 yards on five kicks. "I thought he punted the ball well."
There were problems on punt returns and punt coverage, too. The worst was the muffed punt by senior Troy Stoudemire, who returned the first punt of his collegiate career 40 yards, but then dropped the second one, a turnover that led to UNLV's only touchdown in regulation.
"When I went to the sideline, I forgot about it. It happens. People muff punts all the time," the senior cornerback said. "I've just got to get back and get better. Catch more punts and passes."
Making the mistake worse was the fact that Stoudermire committed pass interference on the very next play, a pass into the end zone. "The penalty was unfortunate," he said. "I guess it was a good call by the ref, but I thought I made a good play on the ball. "
One other weird play: Lamonte Edwards got too close to a UNLV punt, and a Rebel player tried to get him to touch the ball, making it live. Officials eventually ruled that he made no contact, but the play upset Kill.
"First of all, anytime you're in that situation, when that ball is rolling, you give a 'Peter!' call and you get away from it. Get out of the way," Kill said. "Ii think he got caught up, locked on trying to block somebody, and got pushed into the ball. But he's playing hard, and you don't know where that ball's going. It's going to be a good teaching moment."
A couple of other quick points:
-- Not much has been made of the running attack, but while UNLV junior Tim Cornett gained 127 yards on 25 rushes, the Gophers actually easily outgained the Rebels on the ground. Donnell Kirkwood gained 81 yards on 13 carries, James Gillum had 51 yards on 14 carries, and MarQueis Gray picked up 68 yards on 17 rushes. Minnesota averaged 4.5 yards on the ground, UNLV 4.3.
-- Gray had trouble making accurate throws, but his interception wasn't entirely his fault. The pass, which ended a 47-yard drive on the first possession of the game, was tipped by linebacker Tani Maka and caught by Tim Hassan.
-- Kill said last week that A.J. Barker was the surprise of camp. He was the surprise of the opener, too, making big catch after big catch and finishing with 101 yards, all of them big. "I had a gut feeling," about the junior receiver, Kill said. "I thought he played pretty well, caught some crucial balls for us. He runs real good routes."
-- The Gophers released no news Friday on the status of freshman receiver Jamel Harbison, injured in the first half. "I don't know what his status is," Kill said after the game, "but I don't think it's great."
-- If you weren't among the 5,000 or so Gopher fans in the Sam Boyd Stadium stands Thursday, don't worry: You can see the rematch. The Rebels open the 2013 season in TCF Bank Stadium.
-- Headline in Friday's Las Vegas Review-Journal: "Rebels Lose 3-OT Thriller" ... The ending was exciting, but was that game -- the score was 7-3 with 18 minutes to play -- really a "thriller?"
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