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 rally for crazy win

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: October 18, 2014 - 2:40 PM

The Gophers finally won a game when trailing at halftime under Jerry Kill on Saturday. They had to work for it.

Trailing 31-20 at halftime, the Gophers overcame tons of mistakes and bad decisions to defeat Purdue 39-38 at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Gophers had been 0-22 under Kill when trailing at halftime.

The Gophers were awful defensively in the first half but made critical plays when they needed them most. Cedric Thompson made a diving game-saving interception with 2:28 left.

Damarius Travis stopped Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby for no gain on fourth-and-1 on the previous drive.

Gophers kicker Ryan Santoso drilled a 52-yard field goal to give the Gophers the lead for good with less than five minutes left.

The Gophers won't be happy with some of their play, but they got the win and that's the most important thing. They would have lost a game like this in years past. They found a way to win this time.

One-on-one with Gophers DT Cameron Botticelli

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: October 14, 2014 - 3:04 PM

Gophers senior defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli always provides reporters with quality material during his weekly appearance at the Tuesday media access.

Botticelli is personable, intelligent and thoughtful. And quick with a one-liner. So we asked the Milwaukee native -- and devoted Packers fan -- to sit down for a Q&A that included some not-so-serious moments:

Q: I heard you want to become a lawyer after your football career?

CB: I have some aspirations for law school. If football doesn’t work out, I’m going to take a year and study for the LSAT and begin applying to law schools.

Q: What kind of law do you envision practicing?

CB: Originally, I wanted to get into criminal defense and the criminal justice system. As I’ve spent more time thinking about it, I’d really love to end up as general counsel for a business somewhere, however far down the line that is.

Q: One of your teammates told me that he hates arguing with you because he can’t win. He said you never lose an argument. Is that true?

CB: Outside of a discussion with a coach, at least in the locker room, I’d say I’m undefeated in disagreements.

Q: Describe the day or moment that you received your scholarship [as a walk-on]:

CB: It was the summer after my redshirt freshman year. We had just finished up spring ball but summer workouts hadn’t started yet. Coach Kill called me up into his office and he said, ‘Cameron, I think you’ve been doing a really good job for us at defensive tackle. You’ve got Coach Claeys endorsement. Just as soon as we can get you on scholarship, you’re going to have a scholarship.’ That summer I was awarded an athletic scholarship.

Q: Did Kill have a meeting with you?

CB: It was a private meeting. It was absolutely one of the most powerful moments that I’ve experienced in my life because, since the age of 16, 17 years old, all I wanted was a Division I scholarship. Some guys got those out of high school. I didn’t. Part of me is pretty grateful that I didn’t because I had to earn it the hard way. There was no cutting and editing a highlight film to make me look better. It was right here. I was 20 feet in front of the coaches doing my work and if I didn’t deserve it, I wouldn’t have got it.

Q: What's one thing as a player that you would change about college football?

CB: I would change some of the NCAA’s legislation around graduate student and graduate work. I’ve been fortunate enough to graduate in 3½ years. I’ll have 1½ years to finish up and start a master’s program. I’m in my second semester of a master’s of education with an emphasis on youth development leadership. It’s really tough on grad students who are playing college football because you get a Pell Grant, which is some grant-in-aid. You don’t get that as a graduate student. Really, the only assistance you get is your scholarship check and you use your money diligently. However, for some guys who don’t have the family infrastructure back home, that can be a real struggle. So that’s probably one thing that I would change.

Q: Your favorite college player to watch?

CB: I like watching Marcus Rush from Michigan State. He’s a fun player to watch.

Q: One college player that you’d like to face in the Oklahoma drill?

CB: I’ll do one better. It’s always fun to go back and play the University of Wisconsin, having been from that state, and most of their team, having been on my recruiting trips and visits. And having some sort of relationship with those guys. It’s fun to play against them and compete against those guys. To hell with the Oklahoma drill. We’ll do it in the game.

Q: Best play of your career?
CB: It’s not a real sexy play, but it was Syracuse in 2012. I had forced the quarterback out of the pocket. Ra’Shede Hageman had a strip-sack. The ball squirted out in front of me and there was Syracuse offensive lineman right next to me who was about to jump on the ball. Instead of jumping on the ball, I tackled the Syracuse offensive lineman and trusted that one of the other defenders would jump on that ball. Not an ESPN Top 10. But a smart play that ultimately set up someone behind me to secure the turnover.

Q: Hardest hitter on your team?

CB: I’m going to say that’s a tie between [linebacker] Jonathan Celestin and [linebacker] Jephete Matilus. Those guys will come downhill with little regard for their own bodies.

Q: Favorite place that you’ve played besides TCF?

CB: My favorite place that I’ve played would probably be at the University of Wisconsin, not because I have any fond feelings for the University of Wisconsin. But I actually played my state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium. Our locker room was the away locker room my senior year at Marquette High School. So there is some familiarity there.

Q: What is your pregame routine?
CB: Usually I browse through the pregame program. That’s kind of my time to relax and decompress, reading the program. I usually just listen to some music. Keep to myself in the locker room. I enjoy rap music. Pregame meal, I’ll have a few chicken breasts, some pasta, some broccoli, some berries and some Powerade.

Q: Worst thing that has happened to you at the bottom of a pile?

CB: The worst thing that’s happened to me at the bottom of a pile didn’t happen in any game. It happened in spring ball. And it involved – I won’t go into detail – but it involved our guard Zac Epping, who is a friend of mine and has been the past five years. But it included me getting seven staples in my forehead to stop the bleeding.

Q: Jug, Axe or Pig?

CB: Axe. Not even close.

Q: Heard you love Brett Favre and the Packers?

CB: As a young man and as a boy growing up, some of the best memories that I have of my childhood are around NFL football and the men in my family gathering around watching NFL football. Packers in the ‘90s, Brett Favre. So, yeah, I’m a big Brett Favre fan. Grew up as a child watching him. In middle school I was Brett Favre for Halloween three years in a row.

 
 

Vikings offense and line overwhelmed in loss

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: October 12, 2014 - 3:05 PM

And you thought the Vikings offense against the Green Bay Packers was bad?

The Vikings offense did zilch against the Detroit Lions in a miserable 17-3 loss at TCF Bank Stadium. Only a meaningless field goal with 4:53 left in the game saved them from a shutout.

The blame for their ineptitude on offense should be shared, but this game came down to one area: The Lions defensive front manhandled the Vikings offensive line.

The Vikings couldn’t run the ball and Teddy Bridgewater felt constant pressure every time he dropped back to pass. Bridgewater struggled with three interceptions and looked like a rookie facing an elite defense. He was awful.

But his protection failed him, allowing eight sacks for the game.

The Vikings gave up four sacks in the first half. They had 77 total yards of offense at halftime. They looked overwhelmed by Detroit’s massive front four.

It felt like the Vikings could've played until Tuesday and not scored a touchdown against the Lions. They had no chance.

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.

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