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.

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Posts about Gophers game day

Halftime analysis: Leidner's sharp, but Gophers fall behind in Citrus Bowl

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: January 1, 2015 - 1:29 PM

ORLANDO -- Missouri leads the Gophers 10-7 at halftime of the Citrus bowl. A few takeaways:

* First of all – the fans. From his view on the field, Star Tribune photographer Jerry Holt estimates that there are at least 15,000 Gophers fans here. Minnesota’s contingent is much bigger and louder than Missouri’s.

* It was 72 degrees at kickoff. Mostly cloudy.

* The yardage is even 184-184, but it was a tail of two quarters. The Gophers outgained Missouri 143-28 in the first quarter, and Missouri outgained Minnesota 156-41 in the second.

* Mitch Leidner has completed 11 of 12 passes for 96 yards.

* Maty Mauk threw interceptions to end Missouri’s first two drives. Derrick Wells tracked down Mauk’s errant heave to end the first drive. Then, when Mauk took a shot to the end zone for Darius White, and Briean Boddy-Calhoun pulled it right out of White’s hands. It was much like Boddy-Calhoun’s strip of De’Mornay Pierson-El to seal the win at Nebraska.

* Leidner fumbled on Minnesota’s first possession when he got swarmed by Missouri’s standout defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden. But the Gophers went 11 plays and 80 yards for a touchdown on their second drive. Rodrick Williams capped it with a 20-yard TD run.

* Ray has been limping. Potential Top 5 NFL pick does not appear to be at full strength.

* Missouri went 3-and-out on its third drive and almost did again on its fourth drive. But Gary Pinkel gambled with a fake punt from the Mizzou 17-yard line, and it worked as Harold Brantley (a nose guard) rumbled for 18 yards. Missouri punted for real later in the drive, pinning the Gophers at their own 2-yard line.

* That field position helped Missouri get its first points on an Andrew Baggett 22-yard field goal with 6:39 left in the second quarter.

Boddy-Calhoun got turned around, covering Bud Sasser, when Mauk found Sasser for a 25-yard touchdown.

* The Gophers got the ball back with 1:04 left in the second quarter, but were very conservative. Coach Jerry Kill told sideline reporter Justin Gaard that he wanted to be careful not to turn over the ball, knowing the Gophers get the ball to start the third quarter.

Citrus Bowl pregame: An emotional day for Thompson and fellow seniors

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: January 1, 2015 - 10:15 AM

ORLANDO -- I got to the Citrus Bowl and started working on my pregame blog. Then I saw this tweet from Cedric Thompson.

I am speechless. Getting the chance to tell the story of Thompson's rise from Bombay Beach, Calif., was something I'll never forget. Today is a big day for Thompson and his fellow seniors. Here's Chip Scoggins' column on their impact on the program.

It's been 4.5 weeks since the Gophers last played a game, and 3.5 for Missouri. Both teams have been on a mission to make sure there's no rust, but it could be a factor.

I think Missouri has a good team. I think the Gophers have proven they can play with good teams.

"Our losses, except for the Illinois game, are to the Top 15 teams in the country," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "And all of them, except for TCU, we had a chance in the fourth quarter, if we make a few plays, to win those ballgames."

I expect a close, low-scoring game today. Both defenses are tough and both offenses have had their struggles. It should a lot of fun to watch. Here's my prediction.

For the rest of our preview package, click this link. Check out our live blog with updates from inside and outside the Citrus Bowl.

And follow us on Twitter: @JoeCStrib @ChipScoggins

Halftime analysis: Cobb's return gives Gophers a huge boost; they lead 17-13

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 29, 2014 - 4:24 PM

MADISON, WIS. -- The Gophers went to the locker room with a 17-13 lead at halftime. Some quick takeaways:

* The Gophers are 20-0 under Jerry Kill when leading at halftime. They led this one 17-3 lead, but Wisconsin scored the next 10 points to take momentum into the second half. The Badgers will get the ball right away. Keep in mind, Wisconsin trailed Nebraska 17-3 and wound up winning 59-24.

* All week long, it sounded like David Cobb wouldn’t play after straining his left hamstring against Nebraska. But there he was going through warm-ups and getting the start at tailback. And there he was, breaking a tackle and bursting 40 yards for a touchdown, stretching Minnesota’s lead to 14-3.

With that 40-yard run, Cobb broke Laurence Maroney’s single-season school rushing record (1,464) yards. Cobb has 16 carries for 95 yards, giving him 1,525 for the season.

* Melvin Gordon needed just one yard to break Ron Dayne’s single-season Big Ten rushing record (2,109 yards). Gordon has 14 carries for 55 yards, giving him 2,164 for the season.

* Gophers safety Cedric Thompson made five tackles on Wisconsin’s first drive. He tripped up Melvin Gordon with a touchdown-saving tackle at the 6-yard line, and the Gophers held the Badgers to a field goal on that drive.

* The Gophers entered with a plus-11 turnover margin (compared to minus-two for the Badgers), and this came into play immediately. Kenzel Doe fumbled on a punt return, when Jack Lynn delivered a hit, and Eric Murray fell on it at Wisconsin’s 13-yard line. Two plays later, Mitch Leidner scampered for a 10-yard touchdown run.

Leidner has completed 2 of 8 passes for 28 yards.

* Gophers left tackle Josh Campion limped off late in the first half, with a left knee injury. Ben Lauer replaced him.

Pregame: Cobb tests hamstring, appears ready to play

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 29, 2014 - 2:16 PM

MADISON, WIS. -- Gophers running back David Cobb went through warm-ups, looking like he fully expects to play against Wisconsin.

Cobb, who strained his left hamstring last week, came out before warm-ups and loosened up with assistant strength and conditioning coach Chad Pearson. Cobb did a lot of exercises to test the hamstring, including some running, and slapped hands with the coach before returning to the locker room.

Cobb came out for warm-ups and did everything he usually does. Granted, they are not running full speed, but it's an encouraging sign for the Gophers.

Cobb could still be limited, of course. But having him available would be an obvious boost for the Gophers.

It's a good day weather-wise. Should be about 40 degrees for kickoff. The second half will be played in darkness.

Personal note: This is my first time in the Camp Randall Stadium press box since 1994, when I was here as a beat reporter for the Minnesota Daily.

Follow us on Twitter: @JoeCStrib @ChipScoggins

Halftime analysis: Nebraska uses blocked FG touchdown to take a 21-7 lead

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 22, 2014 - 12:42 PM

LINCOLN, NEB. – Nebraska leads the Gophers 21-7 at halftime. A few quick first-half takeaways:

* The Gophers had their biggest special teams disaster of the season late in the second quarter, as a blocked field goal turned into an 85-yard touchdown return for Nebraska.

Trailing 14-7, the Gophers took over at their 13-yard line and marched 74 yards on 11 plays. Ryan Santoso lined up a 30-yard field goal, and the 6-6 Randy Gregory blocked it. Corey Cooper bobbled the ball, but Nate Gerry picked it up and brought it all the way back.

Instead of trailing 14-10, the Gophers suddenly trailed 21-7.

* Nebraska knew it needed to give Tommy Armstrong Jr., some confidence, and he has established a rhythm completing 8 of 13 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. Ameer Abdullah, running with an injured knee, has eight carries for 31 yards.

* Mitch Leidner has been more effective as a rusher than a passer. He is four of 10 for 54 yards through the air, and has 11 rushes for 70 yards. The Gophers don’t have a reception by a wide receiver – a problem last week, too.

David Cobb has 12 rushes for 52 yards and two receptions for 29 yards.

* Nebraska had a rough first quarter injury-wise. Starting center Mark Pelini, nephew of coach Bo Pelini, hobbled off with a leg injury. Fellow senior Kenny Bell appeared to suffer a concussion at the end of his 73-yard reception.

Gregory hobbled off after Mitch Leidner scored on a one-yard sneak, though Gregory soon returned. And wide receiver Alonzo Moore got injured, too.

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