Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He previously covered the Minnesota Vikings for four years, starting in 2008. In addition, he covered college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.

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Gophers start big month with stunning dominance

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: November 8, 2014 - 2:22 PM

Well, the Gophers answered how they’d respond to a bad loss and a difficult start to their November stretch run.

No one could have expected this outcome though.

The Gophers put together a thoroughly dominating performance to throttle rival Iowa 51-14 at TCF Bank Stadium.

I admittedly have a bad memory, but I can’t remember a game like this from a Gophers team, as either a beat writer or columnist. Not in an important game against a big rival. Their performance also makes their loss at Illinois two weeks ago even more perplexing.

The Gophers played darn near a perfect first half to take a 35-7 lead to the locker room. Jerry Kill’s team took control after a shaky opening series by the defense.

Lot of credit to pass around after this performance.

The defense bottled up the run and forced three turnovers in the first half.

Tight end Maxx Williams was brilliant with three touchdown catches and one highlight reel grab along the sideline on a ridiculous individual effort to drag his toes.

Mitch Leidner looked sharp throwing the ball and ran the ball well in a bounce-back performance.

Kill got his team focused and ready to play after the tough loss to Illinois and his coordinators – Tracy Claeys and Matt Limegrover – had smart, aggressive game plans.

With the score still close, Claeys called back-to-back corner blitzes for Eric Murray in the first half and it worked effectively. Murray caused an errant pass on a quarterback hit the first time and then forced a quick throw short of the first down sticks on the second one.

Limegrover also had a good day. He called a number of Jet Sweeps for KJ Maye, who hurt Iowa on the edge and rushed for 53 yards on six carries before halftime.

Limegrover also showed confidence in Leidner after Murray got a hand on an Iowa punt, causing it to travel only 14 yards. On the first play, Limegrover called a play-action pass and Leidner connected with Donovahn Jones for a 44-yard touchdown.

Unsung players step up in victory

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: November 2, 2014 - 3:17 PM

The Vikings survived a roller-coaster game against Washington for a 29-26 victory to enter the bye on a positive note.

Teddy Bridgewater had some bad throws and tough moments but he settled down and made plays down the stretch to secure the win.

To me, the key to this win came in significant contributions from a few backups and role players. Matt Asiata scored three touchdowns, a two-point conversion and ran hard near the goal line.

Tight ends Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison made some important catches and helped Bridgewater in the passing game.

Defensive tackle Tom Johnson contributed on a sack on Washington's final drive.

Those players played a critical role in helping the Vikings win and improve to 4-5.

Ugly loss for Gophers puts damper on season

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: October 25, 2014 - 2:28 PM

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – Thud.

That’s the sound of the Gophers season slamming into a brick wall. We should have known better than to believe this team might be different.

Saturday’s game was supposed to be a final tune-up for the Gophers before the grind of November hit.

Instead, the Gophers looked asleep for the first half and coughed up a late lead to lose 28-24 to an Illinois team that entered the game 0-3 in the Big Ten.

Thud.

The Gophers had visions of returning home 7-1, 4-0 in the Big Ten with a pivotal four-game stretch on tap, starting with Iowa in two weeks.

And now? Yawn.

The Gophers had a chance to win after moving the ball to the Illinois’ 26-yard line. But Mitch Leidner threw three incompletions and then was sacked and fumbled on fourth down.

Leidner’s performance was all over the map. He completed a few big plays in the third quarter to give his team a spark. But he threw the ball wildly and made poor decisions in the pocket to kill any momentum.

David Cobb fumbled on third-and-long with 6½ minutes left in the fourth quarter and Illinois cornerback V’Angelo Bentley scooped it up and ran 15 yards for a touchdown to give Illinois the lead for good.

The Gophers were awful offensively in the first half, managing only 3 points and 86 total yards against the Big Ten’s worst defense. Illinois gave up, on average, 40.3 points and 402.7 yards rushing in its first three conference games.

Santoso on patriotic shirt, Vedder shout-out, long kick

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: October 22, 2014 - 8:21 PM

  Gophers redshirt freshman kicker Ryan Santoso has enjoyed a memorable few days.

His career-long 52-yard field goal proved to be the difference in the Gophers 39-38 victory against Purdue on Saturday.

The Big Ten honored Santoso as the conference special teams player of the week for his clutch kick.

As you can see from this picture, Santoso showed up for the postgame press conference wearing his favorite patriotic shirt.

This photo came from the twitter account of @CloydRivers who showed Santoso his appreciation for his display of patriotism.

Then, according to people who attended the Pearl Jam concert, singer Eddie Vedder gave Santoso a shout-out from the stage while congratulating the Gophers on the win.

Santoso talked to a few reporters after practice on Wednesday about his shirt, Vedder's comments and his long field goal. 

First, that shirt.

"I think that got a little more publicity than my kick did," he said.

He said he heard about the attention from CloydRivers tweet and others. He said his sister gave him the shirt for his birthday this year.

"I like it," he said. "Great opportunities in this nation."

Santoso wears the shirt during warmups before every game. He said he also wears it occasionally to class and other places.

"I feel like I'm a pretty patriotic person," he said. "I like it. It makes me a little different."

We did some serious investigative journalism this week and asked teammates about Santoso's shirt. That included asking around to see if any of them would wear that shirt. Here's what we found:

"I love that shirt," tight end Maxx Williams said. "Big eagle on the front. What’s more awesome than that?"

"It’s actually kind of cool shirt," defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli said. "I would wear that. Not every day like he does. Maybe for special occasions. Fourth of July, or a party. But not every day. He loves the heck out of that shirt."

"That’s his favorite shirt," receiver KJ Maye said. "I would wear it. I wouldn't wear it for style."

"I don’t know if I could pull that one off," punter Peter Mortell said. "I’ll leave that to Ryan."

On Vedder acknowledging his kick during his concert, Santoso seemed almost embarrassed by the attention: "It’s not just me. It’s the team in general."

Santoso said he once made a 70-yard field goal in practice as a junior in high school. His longest miss in a game came from 58 yards his senior year.

Santoso initially thought his max range Saturday was 50 yards.

"But I got to be a little risky every now and then," he said. "[Mortell, the holder] said 52 is good. I was like, 'Alright, if you believe in me, I’ll believe in me.'"

Said Mortell on his role: "I know that he can hit it from farther than what he thought in the game. I talked to Coach Kill. I told him if we get to the 35-yard line, we have a realistic shot. Ryan’s confidence is growing with every kick."

Vikings collapse a collective effort

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: October 19, 2014 - 3:42 PM

Welcome to the 2013 season. At least that's what a late collapse by the Vikings in a 17-16 loss to Buffalo felt like.

Remember last season and all those blown leads and late-game meltdowns. Add this one to the archive. Except you can't blame Leslie Frazier's Tampa-2 scheme or Alan Williams' play-calling on this bad loss.

The Bills offense did basically nothing until their last shot, and the Vikings folded, starting with a fourth-and-20 conversion when linebacker Chad Greenway got beat for a 24-yard gain.

Then, the Vikings gave up a third-and-12 completion for 18 yards. And a 28-yard completion on second-and-20.

The defense deserves to be criticized for failing to make an impactful play to preserve the win, but the offense didn't exactly help matters.

Specifically, the Vikings moved the ball to the Buffalo 7-yard line in the fourth quarter. But the offensive line gave up back-to-back sacks to move the Vikings backward to the 23. That forced them to kick a field goal for a 16-10 lead, leaving open the possibility of a comeback.

The Vikings forced four turnovers and sacked Kyle Orton six times.

And yet they still lost. We shouldn't be surprised. We saw the same thing over and over last season.

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