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.
BY PHIL MILLER
In a league once famous for Woody Hayes' favorite play -- three yards and a cloud of dust -- the Gophers, at least early in the season, have become the Big Ten's most devoted running team.
Minnesota threw 30 passes at UNLV, and ran the ball 46 times. Last Saturday, they used 52 running plays, and threw only 14 passes. For the season, that means Minnesota has a lopsided 69 percent to 31 percent run-pass ratio, easily the highest in the Big Ten. Only Illinois, which has kept the ball on the ground 67 percent of the time, approaches the Gophers' rate.
Coach Jerry Kill has said several times that he wants Minnesota to be known as a running team, able to rely on its rushing attack for consistent yardage. But the play-calling in the Gophers' first two victories -- and in particular the 44-7 win over New Hampshire -- is more circumstantial than philosophical. In other words, look for the Gophers to open things up a little more as the season goes on.
"You always try to balance it out as much as you can," Kill said this week of the run-vs.-pass ratio. "But it's (affected) according to who you play, and we did exactly what we needed to do to play against New Hampshire."
That's because the Gophers were determined not to allow the Wildcats' no-huddle offense to gain any momentum, fearing that they could tire Minnesota's defense and turn a blowout into a close game. Ball control was critical, so the Gophers kept the clock running by minimizing their passing game.
Minnesota held the ball for almost 10 more minutes than New Hampshire, so the strategy worked.
"Could we have thrown it eight or nine or 10 more times? Possibly," Kill said. "But at the same time, we didn't want a no-huddle team to get on a roll."
Those same considerations figure to be in play this week, against a Western Michigan team that uses far more offensive players and alignments than either team the Gophers have faced so far. So the ratio of run to pass might not change much this week, assuming the Gophers don't fall behind and be forced to pass.
Once the Big Ten season begins, look for the Gophers to mix up their play-calling more evenly, Kill said. "You always try to have as much balance in your offense as you possibly can," he said. "You want to keep people off-balance."
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