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.
I wrote in today's Star Tribune about the Gophers' phone-book receiving corps, a position that's getting contributions from many players. Three receivers have caught passes in all five games, and two more have receptions in four games, so the ball is being spread around in every game, especially when you consider that tight ends John Rabe and Drew Goodger have nine and seven catches, respectively, as well.
Even more remarkable: Freshmen Jamel Harbison and Andre McDonald and senior Brandon Green, a trio expected to have a big impact this year, have one catch (by McDonald in the opener) between them.
A.J. Barker is the top receiver by far, with 19 catches, 357 yards and four touchdowns, more than double in every category than any of his teammates. That's mostly due to how he's covered, or not covered, by opposing defenses, quarterback Max Shortell said.
"It's a combination of everything. I'm not trying to throw to my favorite receiver or something, that's not the case," Shortell said. "I'm throwing based on what the coverage gives me."
The Gophers have made the most of their passing game. Consider this: Only four Big Ten teams average fewer than 16 completions per game; the Gophers, at 15.4 catches, are one of them, yet they rank fifth in the conference in passing yardage, at 217.2 yards per game. The other three low-completion teams? They rank 10th (Wisconsin), 11th (Michigan) and 12th (Ohio State) in passing yards.
I talked to Marcus Jones as part of the story, because he seems like a player whose catches are only going to increase as the season goes on. He's made only five catches this year, but that's understandable, considering he tore a knee ligament last season and had major surgery.
The knee is giving him little trouble this year, Jones said, and I suspect his role in the offense will grow as the season wears on. One other thing that will grow: the amount of caution he uses as the weather grows colder.
"As of right now, I don't feel anything, but as things get cold, you get tighter some times," the 19-year-old receiver said. "I feel like you've got to do a little more to warm it up, make sure you're ready. That's something I'm going to do every day -- take 10 extra minutes to warm it up every time I go out, just to be sure."
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