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.

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Line battles prepared Gophers for W. Michigan

Posted by: Phil Miller under College football, Gophers game day Updated: September 15, 2012 - 10:15 AM

     Zac Epping knows first-hand how much better the Gophers' defensive line is. He has to block them every day.
     "Oh, yeah," Epping said this week. "They're stronger and faster. It's good practice."
     Specifically, the sophomore right guard helps center Zach Mottla deal with nose tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound pass-rusher who frequently requires a double-team to keep him out of the backfield. But there are times when Epping, who tops 300 pounds himself, must get in Hageman's way himself.
     It's a challenge he says he relishes.
     "I get a good amount of time against 'Shede. It's a good battle," Epping said. "He comes to play, and we have good competition." And how do you handle such a huge challenge? "Like anyone else -- I try to stay low," he said.
     That attitude is why Tracy Claeys like what he sees from the Gophers, who kick off against Western Michigan in about an hour. "You've got to love football to play on the line," Claeys said, "and we've got more of those guys, the ones who really love the game, this year."
     The Gophers are a 1-point favorite as they meet the Broncos from the Mid-American Conference today, a reflection of their habit of disappointing losses in the preseason. They'll be wearing their new gold tops with "Minnesota" on the back instead of players' names, with maroon pants. The Broncos are in white with light gold pants.
     The weather is perfect, right now 66 degrees and sunny.
     The game is on BTN, which probably won't be available to Dish Network subscribers today. The network's one-week extension of negotiations with Dish expired Friday without a permanent agreement.
 

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