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.
The guy taking the snaps for the Gophers will be different this Saturday. But almost as important, coach Jerry Kill said, is the fact that the guy making those snaps isn't the normal starter, either.
"People don't talk about Zach Mottla as much, but that's a big deal for us," Kill said of the Gophers' junior center, who sat out against Western Michigan and might do the same against Syracuse next week. "We've got to get him healthy."
Mottla injured an ankle during practice a week ago, and while he was available had an emergency come up, Kill wanted to wait for his ankle to improve. "We're not going to play a guy at three-quarter speed or something like that and take a risk," the coach said.
That's the plan this week, too, and it might turn out that Mottla is given a second week to rest his ankle. The urgency is mitigated significantly, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said, by the strong play of Zac Epping in Mottla's place, and sophomore Caleb Bak at Epping's usual right guard spot.
"Caleb Bak really had come along," LImegrover said. "So when Zach Mottla got hurt last week, it was just a natural transition because of how Caleb had been playing."
The Gophers gained 180 yards on the ground and quarterback Max Shortell, pressed into service when MarQueis Gray was injured, was sacked only once against the Broncos. Limegrover was impressed. That's why the Gophers might wait one more week to restore their usual starting lineup.
Epping "will be (at center) until I feel like Zach Mottla is 100 percent. Zach's pretty close, and we're reevaluate it at that point," Limegrover said. "But I kind of like what we were able to get going on Saturday."
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