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 Gophers never had a chance against Michigan last year in Ann Arbor. They had chance after chance Saturday in Minneapolis.
So which hurts more?
I'm saying this one, because the Gophers definitely had the feeling that a historic victory was possible. Last year, there was embarrassment over the 58-0 loss, but little frustration; they knew, with MarQueis Gray out with a toe injury, that winning in the Big House would be next to impossible.
On Saturday, the Wolverines looked nothing like the powerhouse they usually are. The absence of quarterback Denard Robinson helped, but there was little of the physical man-handling that Minnesota experienced a year ago. The Gophers sacked fill-in quarterback Devin Gardner three times, and Philip Nelson was sacked only once.
Nelson wasn't as sharp as he had been the past couple of weeks, but that was no surprise; the Wolverines have the best pass defense in the conference. Nelson completed only 13 of 29 passes for 142 yards, and was off the mark with several throws. Expect his accuracy to improve quite a big next week against Illinois' significantly less stingy pass defense.
Meanwhile, Gopher fans have a week to figure out this coaching staff's odd sense of timing for fake field goals. Against Northwestern last month, they ran a fake rather than kick a 52-yard field goal in the wind, a play that fooled nobody. Saturday, the element of surprise was much greater -- because a field goal seemed like the best choice.
It was Minnesota's first possession of the third quarter; the Gophers faced fourth-and-16 from the Michigan 19, and trailed only 14-7. That's a lot of yardage to pick up for a first down; the call is far more defensible on fourth-and-7 or less, something like that. Quarterback Philip Nelson pretended to trot off the field when the field-goal team came on, but he lingered near the sideline, hoping he wouldn't be noticed. On the snap, the holder, Peter Mortell, threw a pass to Nelson, but he got only five yards before he was swarmed by the defense.
"It was exactly how it's supposed to be executed," Nelson said. "Those guys just got right over there right away."
Coach Jerry Kill said his reasoning was that Michigan was rolling. "They're moving the ball, and we know they're a pretty good football team," he said. But the Gophers had just opened the half by stopping the Wolverines on a three-and-out; in fact, Michigan had scored on only two of its six possessions to that point.
Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference. As Kill said, had Nelson surprised Michigan and scored a touchdown, he would have been hailed as a hero. Still, the timing just seemed very odd.
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