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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Gophers' defense stifled Syracuse passing attack

Posted by: Phil Miller under College football, Gophers postgame Updated: September 23, 2012 - 12:13 AM

     Which is more difficult to comprehend, Gophers fans, the fact that your football team is undefeated heading into Big Ten play, or the fact that they've done it with defense?
     After feasting on overmatched schools from lower levels for three weeks, the Gophers faced an opponent with BCS conference credentials. "Their skill people were as good as we've seen all year," Kill said. And how did that matchup come out?
     Minnesota is 4-0 after shutting down a Syracuse offense that was scoring almost 40 points a game. The pressure up front was evident all night -- for each of the Gophers' three sacks, there were probably two more near-misses -- and the Orange's star receiver, Marcus Sales, wasn't even a factor until the game's final drive.
     In fact, take away that 83-yard drive when Minnesota already led by 14 points, a march that the Gophers also managed to slow down so it took almost five minutes off the clock, and Syracuse had 267 yards of offense. Not bad for a defense that ranked 10th in the Big Ten last year and allowed an average of more than 400 yards per game. This year? No opponent has reached 400 yards yet.
     "We focus on stopping the run, and as soon as we stop the run, we know we can make a team one-dimensional," said defensive end Michael Amaefula. "Once you make them one-dimensional, we'll go get them on the pass rush."
     Good plan. Until the Orange's final drive, senior quarterback Ryan Nassib was only 14-for-24 for 147 yards through the air. He was 7-for-7 on the final drive against a tired (and wary of the big play) Gopher defense, true enough. But the Gophers had established the tone for the night long before that.
     On the first play from scrimmage, matter of fact, when safety Cedric Thompson intercepted Nassib's pass.
     There are plenty of things for the Gophers to clean up. Jordan Wettstein missed a pair of makable field goals, one of them from just 26 yards, though he recovered by hitting a 43-yarder that all but put the game away in the fourth quarter. They had too many penalties, too, committing eight for 63 yards, and surrendered a couple of sacks.
     But none of that matters like the final score. And for the fourth straight week, the score wiped away any and every mistake.

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