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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Cobb's extra effort stands out

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: October 7, 2014 - 4:20 PM

Gophers running back David Cobb ranks sixth nationally in rushing at 144.4 yards per game and third in carries per game at 24.8.

The thing that jumps out to me is Cobb’s determination and his ability to turn nothing into positive yards.

Cobb is not particularly fast, but he runs hard and he manages to turn a 4-yard gain into 8 to 10 yards by keeping his legs moving and refusing to go down after that initial contact.

The Gophers and NCAA don’t track yards after contact as a statistic, but I’m guessing a high percentage of Cobb’s rushing total has come after that initial hit. He’s able to move the pile and gain extra yards.

I asked some of Cobb’s coaches and teammates about his toughness in those situations.

“When we watch film, you’ll see that a couple of guys missed their block and then he can make you look so good because he makes guys miss and gains an extra three, four yards,” center Tommy Olson said. “It’s cool to watch.”

“Watching film, we would watch the runs just to watch Cobb,” wide receiver Isaac Fruechte said. “Obviously, we’re watching the runs for our blocking, too. But when you just rewind it a few times and just watch Cobb run, it’s impressive. Sometimes it looks like there’s nothing there and he’s getting positive yardage all the time.”

Said offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover: “When you go back on Sunday and you get the end zone copy and go, ‘Man, there just wasn't a lot there’ and all of the sudden it's a 9‑yard gain. That's pretty special quality. There's a lot of kids as high school running backs, they’re just bigger, faster, stronger than whoever they’re going against so they’re going to have 200 yards a game. But it's that special kid that can translate over when he’s going against everyone else who is as big and strong and fast when he can find a way to turn those 4‑yard gains into 10, or 10‑yard gains into 20.  That's when you know you got something special.”

Key defensive stats

We’ve talked a lot about the Gophers takeaways, but their defense has now created 15 turnovers in five games. They are tied for sixth nationally in takeaways.

Here’s another important statistic: The defense has allowed only three passes of 30-plus yards. That’s tied for the fifth-fewest in college football.

So, the Gophers aren’t giving up big pass plays and they’re creating turnovers. That’s a winning formula.

“Anytime you play fast and physical you have a chance of doing that,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “Anytime people spread the field, so much comes down to athleticism and how athletic we are is probably as big of a deal as anything with regard to the turnovers.”

It’s interesting that the Gophers have caused that many turnovers despite collecting only nine sacks, which ranks last in the Big Ten. Claeys said the sacks total is down, but he’s happy with the overall pressure because they’re forcing quarterbacks to get rid of the ball fast.

“We time the ball and how quick it's coming out and except for a handful of [plays] this year we've gotten the ball out awfully quick,” he said.

Crazy weekend

The Gophers enjoyed a fun weekend to have their bye. Players were able to sit at home and watch college football games as fans. Like everyone else, they marveled at the number of upsets and crazy finishes.

“I thought Katy Perry called some great upsets,” tight end Maxx Williams joked, referring to the singer’s appearance on ESPN’s College GameDay. “It just shows that anyone can win on any Saturday. It was a crazy Saturday.”

Said Olson: “I thought it was one of the best days to watch as a fan. All those upsets. Great day for the state of Mississippi.”

Personal highlight

Williams said his one-handed catch in the final seconds of the third quarter against Michigan ranks among his personal best.

On third-and-7, Williams was covered by safety Jeremy Clark down the sideline. As Clark jostled with him, Williams lunged with his right arm extended and pulled in the pass

“I thought I was out of bounds,” Williams said. “Everybody came up celebrating. It was one of my favorite moments.”

Gophers tidbits: Big House edition

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 23, 2014 - 3:48 PM

A few thoughts and notes as the Gophers prepare for Michigan at the Big House…

Spotlight on passing game

Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover gave an answer honest when asked if the Gophers can be successful in the Big Ten using the model they unveiled Saturday against San Jose State: 58 rushes, 1 completion.

“Probably not,” he said. “When we do throw the football, we've got to get better.  I'm not going to say we need to throw it more. But when we do, we need to make sure that it's spot on.”

The Gophers didn’t announce a starter, though Jerry Kill said Mitch Leidner still hasn’t done any work on the field as he recovers from turf toe. My guess here on Tuesday is that Streveler will get the start. Again, that’s strictly a guess at this point.

If so, it will be interesting to see Limegrover’s game plan. Michigan is No. 3 in the Big Ten in rushing defense at 80.2 yards per game. The Gophers likely will need to rely on their passing game at some point.

That could be a problem. The Gophers completed only 30 passes total in four nonconference games. They average 99.8 yards passing per game. They basically ignored their passing game Saturday.

Streveler took his performance in good humor. He joked on twitter about having only one completion and admitted that he’s taken some ribbing on campus.

“Some of my buddies in class have been like, ‘Hey, nice completion,’” he said. “It’s just funny. I like to joke around about it because we got the win.”

Friendly competition

David Cobb averages 134.8 yards rushing per game and 5.9 yards per carry. Those numbers are good for fourth in the conference.

That speaks to the talent at running back in the Big Ten. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman leads the nation in rushing at 189.7 yards per game.

 Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah is at 156.2 yards and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon at 143.7.

All four running backs rank in the Top 10 nationally in rushing.

“You see those guys week in and week out – Coleman, Abdullah, Melvin Gordon – you see their big numbers, as a competitor, you feel like you’re one of the best so you have to go out there and top that,” Cobb said. “It’s great competition. If I can do my part, I know our team has a good chance of winning.”

Cobb carried the ball 34 times for 207 yards on Saturday. He said he’s never carried the ball that many times at any level.

Tired?

“Nah,” he said. “I didn’t play the first two years so I’m pretty fresh.”

Key stat

The Gophers rank second nationally in takeaways with 13. Michigan ranks last nationally in turnover margin at minus 10.

Different factors contribute to a defense's ability to create turnovers: Speed, pressure on the quarterback, pursuit to the ball, aggressiveness, even luck sometimes.

“Speed is one factor,” defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli said. “A great play by [linebacker] Damien Wilson comes to my mind. The ball carrier is going down and he makes a strip attempt. Some other player might just be thinking about getting the guy on the ground. Damien Wilson and other members of our defense are actively trying to create turnovers.”

Third-down efficiency

San Jose State converted 8 of 15 third-down opportunities on Saturday, which dropped the Gophers to 11th in the Big Ten at 39.7 percent. And that includes holding TCU to 2-of-12 on third down the previous week.

Keep an eye on that area this week. The Wolverines have issues on offense, but they had success on third down against the Gophers last season, converting on 10-of-13 chances.

“You want to be successful 70 percent,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “If you can do that, games go pretty good for you. … You go back a year ago, we played terrible on third down versus Michigan. Couldn't get them off the field. We have to play much better on third down against them.”

Four in a row?

Here’s an interesting stat from the Gophers SID office: If Streveler starts, it would be the fourth consecutive game at Michigan that the Gophers have started a freshman quarterback.

The others: Leidner (2013), Max Shortell (2011) and Adam Weber (2007).

The Gophers were outscored in those three games by a combined score of 134-23.

Travel plans

I’ll be at the Big House on Saturday as part of the Strib contingent. This will be my fourth trip to the Big House (2004, 2005, and 2007).

I’ve covered some wild games in the Little Brown Jug rivalry:

The 2003 Friday night meltdown at the Metrodome.

The 27-24 loss at the Big House in 2004 when the Gophers blew a late lead.

And then the following year when Gary Russell’s 61-yard run on third-and-long with 1:27 left set up a game-winning field goal, the Gophers last victory in this series.

Penalty AND offense doom Vikings

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 21, 2014 - 3:10 PM

Quick reaction from Vikings 20-9 loss to New Orleans:

There will be a lot of discussion on the personal foul penalty on Captain Munnerlyn on Drew Brees in the third quarter.

Munnerlyn slammed Brees backward on a third-down sack for what looked like another stop by the Vikings defense. The Vikings trailed 13-9 but had some momentum at the time.

But the officials called Munnerlyn for a personal foul after Brees jumped up and protested.

The Saints took advantage of the second chance with a touchdown drive that completely changed the tone of the game.

That was the pivotal moment in the game and it was a tough call for sure, but the Vikings also have to look at their own mistakes, too. They scored only nine points. Kicking field goals against the Saints at home is not a winning formula.

On offense, I liked some of the things that rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater showed in relief of injured Matt Cassel. In particular, Bridgewater displayed some poise against heavy pressure in the third quarter.

The Vikings still have to find ways to get the ball in the end zone. They can't expect to win many games scoring just nine points. But Bridgewater didn't seem rattled by his first NFL experience in a loud venue.

Gophers tidbits: Leidner status, another no-huddle offense

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 9, 2014 - 5:07 PM

Mitch Leidner has a knee injury. That much we know. His status for Saturday’s game at TCU remains an unknown.

Everyone from Jerry Kill to teammates praised Leidner’s toughness Tuesday. Many expressed confidence that he’ll be on the field Saturday.

That said, I’m guessing we won’t know Leidner’s status until just before kickoff.

The Gophers have no incentive to disclose whether Leidner will play this early in the week. Heck, they might not even know that answer until watching him move around in practice the next few days.

I’ve covered enough of these situations that I won’t believe anything until kickoff Saturday.

Different look

Those familiar with TCU probably won’t recognize the Horned Frogs offense. Coach Gary Patterson changed his offensive philosophy this offseason and installed a no-huddle, spread attack.

In their only game this season, the Horned Frogs ran 96 plays against Samford.

TCU will be the third consecutive no-huddle team the Gophers have faced this season.

"You're going to get Baylor speed of no‑huddle," Kill said. "So they are going to snap it about every 15, 16 seconds."

TCU is a member of the Big 12 Conference now so Patterson adjusted his offensive philosophy to keep pace with the other fast-break offenses in that league.

TCU does a lot of three-step drops, which means the ball comes out of the quarterback’s hand fast. That makes it difficult for defenses to generate a pass rush.

I asked defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli about the keys to rushing a quarterback who gets rid of the ball so quickly.

"It’s being disruptive, it’s punishing the o-linemen," he said. "You’re still going to run up and hit them, and they don’t like that necessarily. If you can collapse that pocket and make him feel a little pressure, it might not make an impact on every play, but your effort and energy level has to be on its top level every play."

The good and bad

The Gophers have created six takeaways already, including four interceptions by four different players. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys gave an interesting answer when I asked about turnovers.

"You always try to get turnovers, but I don't want to be a bad defensive team that relies on turnovers to get us out of situations," he said. "We have to play better on defense."

Youngsters on the field

The Gophers have played eight true freshmen this season, seven on defense. Kill said he typically only plays 3-4 true freshmen in a season, but injuries and unbalanced class sizes have forced his hand a little bit. (By comparison, the Tennessee Vols played 21 true freshmen in their season opener.)

Four true freshmen are now in the Gophers defensive line rotation. At one point vs. Middle Tennessee, Claeys played three of those freshmen – Gaelin Elmore, Gary Moore and Andrew Stelter – on the line at the same time.

"The good thing is, as I say again, they all have athletic ability and they're all capable of playing," Claeys said. "I'd rather have that than three guys out there who can't play at all, because injuries. At least they can play."

Goodell failed miserably in Rice case

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 9, 2014 - 8:40 AM

As NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell has delivered harsh punishment in response to player arrests and misconduct that embarrasses teams, the league or his precious “Shield.”

Today, the commissioner should take a real hard look in the mirror because he fell woefully short at a critical hour with his horrendous handling of this Ray Rice situation.

Goodell’s light punishment initially was only made worse by release of the elevator tape that shows Rice knocking unconscious his then-fiancee with a violent punch. And now TMZ, which obtained the tape, reported Tuesday morning that the NFL didn’t try very hard to review the tape during its investigation.

TMZ reports that the league didn’t even ask the Atlantic City casino for a copy of their tape. In response, the league released a statement to PFT saying that it asked for the tape from law enforcement but was denied because it was an ongoing criminal investigation.

How convenient.

You mean, an entity with the power of the NFL, with its own investigative expertise and reach, didn’t bother to ask the casino for the tape? Rice’s lawyer reportedly had a copy, too. Why not ask him?

Why not use the weight of its power to get to the very bottom of what happened?

Because they apparently didn't try hard enough, that’s why. The league thought it would hand Rice a two-game suspension and everyone would move on because it’s the NFL, after all.

This, of course, assumes that the NFL is telling the truth when it says nobody connected with the league reviewed that tape, which still seems hard to believe.

Here’s a question that bothers me: Why did Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens even need to see Rice punching his girlfriend before they decided that a harsher punishment was necessary? Until Monday, the only video available was the one that showed Rice dragging the woman out of the elevator, unconscious.

Was that not enough shock and disgust to warrant more than a two-game suspension? Maybe Rice fooled Goodell and his employer with his version of events. But he acknowledged striking his fiancée and we saw him dragging her body. And yet the Ravens and Goodell only found that worthy of a two-game suspension.

Shame on them.

The only reason they were moved to action Monday – Ravens released Rice and the league suspended him indefinitely – is because of public outrage over the tape. That’s the only reason.

The worst kind of leadership is reactionary. Goodell failed miserably on the front end and then reacted with a harsher punishment because of the anger and embarrassment he brought to the league.

Goodell works on behalf of the owners and there’s a debate now about whether he should be removed from that office. That’s a valid conversation.

Goodell’s integrity looks gone right now. He had a chance to make a real statement about the league’s view on domestic violence. Instead, he blew it and made the NFL look horrible. And now everyone is engaged in full damage control.

What a pathetic bunch. Rice, Goodell, the Ravens. All of them.     

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