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.
Gophers WR/DB recruit Nate Andrews has flipped his commitment from Minnesota to Florida State, according to AL.com.
Andrews is rated a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and committed to Minnesota in late-November. He's from Fairhope, Ala., and reportedly had interest from Alabama and Tennessee, among others.
Chip Scoggins told me a few weeks ago that Andrews might make a good column if he indeed stuck with the Gophers with all those southern schools recruiting him. Scoggins has followed Minnesota's recruiting for years and seen this many times.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Andrews apparently visited Florida State last weekend and notified Minnesota's coaching staff of his decision today.
"It's done," Fairhope coach Adam Winegarden told AL.com, a conglomerate that includes The Birmingham News. "He's going to Florida State."
NEW MEXICO STATE COACH BOLTS FOR NFL
One team on the Gophers 2013 schedule is suddenly looking for a new head coach.
New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker left his post to become an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, overseeing defensive backs, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Walker, 52, actually lettered for the Gophers in 1981. He was the defensive coordinator at UCLA for three years before becoming New Mexico State's head coach in 2009.
The Aggies went 4-9 in 2011 but fell to 1-11 last year, so this move wasn't surprise. McKinley Boston, former Gophers athletic director and now the AD at NMSU, named offensive coordinator Doug Martin interim head coach and plans to conduct a national search.
The Gophers play at New Mexico State in their second game of the season, on Sept. 7.
TUSLER FLIPS, TOO
Bridgeport Tusler, the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year, has already decommitted from Northern Iowa and committed to South Dakota State, according to our David La Vaque (via Twitter).
And yes, as a newbie to these college football recruiting wars, I can officially say my head is spinning.
I was out sick yesterday. Did I miss anything?
* Manti Te'o ... wow.
* A.J. Barker ... wow.
* And Marc Trestman (Gophers QB 1974-76) lands the Bears head coaching job.
That was one eventful day. And now it's almost time for Gophers/Michigan at The Barn. This should be fun to watch. Amelia's doing a live chat over the noon hour, so stop by to check that out.
MarQueis Gray's passing was one of the most important storylines from Thursday's victory over UNLV, and I recounted his determination to fix his problem in Wednesday morning's Star Tribune. The fix is a relatively simple one, Gray said -- he just needs to get more loft on his passes.
"Having been a receiver, I know that's what you need -- more air under the ball and give your guy a chance to run under it," Gray said Tuesday. "That's what we're working on this week. I had too many line drives."
But there's another issue regarding Gray's play that's worth considering, too: His running. The senior quarterback -- the Gophers' leading rusher last season -- carried the ball 17 times, more than any other Minnesota ballcarrier. (Tailbacks James Gillum had 14 carries, and Donnell Kirkwood 13.)
Only a couple of his rushes were scrambles, Gray said; the great majority were called runs. And he gained 68 yards on those carries, an average of 4.0 yards per run that's about a yard shorter than his average a year ago.
Gray's role changed in the fourth quarter, when the Rebels relaxed their contain-Gray strategy. Until then, a UNLV defender had been assigned to keep track of the quarterback from across the line of scrimmage, and step forward if he tried to run.
"Most of the game, they had a guy spying me, so I had to stay in the pocket," Gray said. "But as the game wore on, they took it off, and the coaches noticed that and had me run the ball."
And run it a lot. Eight of Gray's carries came in the fourth quarter, along with 37 of the yards.
That's a lot of work for the 6-foot-5 senior, and Kill said after the game that he wants to be careful how much they unleash Gray early in the game, to avoid wearing him down. But the Gophers will do what's necessary to win, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said, and that means giving the 6-foot-5 quarterback plenty of carries. Last year, he averaged 18.1 rushes per game, albeit on a team with less depth at tailback.
"We've never put a limit on that, because (in) our offense, you don't know if he'll carry the ball on a given play because there are so many reads. So it could be 17 (rushes) one week, 11 the next, could be 22 the following week," Limegrover said. "We're not saying hey we've got to put a cap on it. This isn't (Nationals pitcher) Stephen Strasburg -- we're not going to shut him down after so many innings. If he's got it and he's feeling it, if he's running downhill, we're not going to hold back."
Tim Brewster is a coach again, according to several news reports.
The former Gophers head coach has accepted a job as receivers coach at Mississippi State, ESPN reported Thursday. Brewster replaces Angelo Mirando, who held the position for one season and resigned abruptly on Sunday for personal reasons.
Brewster was 15-30 at Minnesota before being fired in October 2010 after the Gophers' 1-6 start. He was replaced on an interim basis by Jeff Horton, who went 2-3 to finish the season, and eventually Jerry Kill. After unsuccessfully seeking the head coaching job at Texas State, Brewster spent last season as a sideline reporter for Fox Sports, and had agreed to work as a game analyst for CBS Sports Network this season.
But a call from MSU coach Dan Mullen changed those plans. Brewster has experience as an assistant coach at North Carolina, Texas and in the NFL with the Chargers and Broncos, mostly coaching tight ends.
Mississippi State, 7-6 a year ago but 2-6 in the SEC, opens its season a week from Saturday against Jackson State.
MarQueis Gray is a dangerous weapon when he tucks the football and runs, but he needs to become a more efficient passer. So Minnesota football coaches, with some free time available between recruiting season and spring practice, looked around the country for examples of mobile quarterbacks who blossomed as pass-throwers as their careers went on.
Turns out, Baylor had one last season, an offensive machine that you don't have to be a football coach to have heard of. Which is how three Gopher assistant coaches came to spend a few days last week in Waco, Texas.
"We liked what they did with Robert Griffin III, with what they put on his plate," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said of the Bears' Heisman Trophy winner. "We had seen him play the year before, and he made a real nice jump from 2010 to 2011 -- I think a lot of people would like to have a year like that, wouldn't they?"
Um, yeah. Griffin had one of the great passing seasons in NCAA history, completing 72.4 percent of his passes, racking up 4,239 yards, and throwing for 37 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Not too bad.
Nobody is demanding that Gray turn into a Heisman threat, of course, not even close. But coach Jerry Kill's staff wanted some tips on drawing more production out of their senior quarterback, who outgained Griffin on the ground, 966 yards (and a 4.9-yard-per-carry average) to 699 (and a 3.9 average), but barely completed half of his passes and threw for just 1,469 yards and eight scores.
"They really did some things to help [Griffin] be successful, so we felt like that was a good thing to look at," Limegrover said. Quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski, receivers coach Pat Poore and offensive graduate assistant Daryl Agpalsa headed to Baylor to meet with Bears' coaches.
That's what passes for a vacation in college football, a sport where everyone is looking for the next great idea. LImegrover himself, along with running backs coach Brian Anderson, tight ends coach Rob Reeves and quality-control coach Nate Griffin, drove to Ames, Iowa, on Friday to share ideas, and once Cincinnati begins spring practice in early March, he and Kill hope to fly to Ohio to watch.
"It's a rite of spring," Limegrover said. "From a week after signing day to about mid-March, a lot of guys are on the move. We just finished up watching all of last season again with our [situational] cut-ups -- kind of figuring out, here's what we did well, here's what we didn't, here's what we need to chop, here's what we need to emphasize. You get that done, and you go, OK, maybe these people have a wrinkle we could look at."
Many times, they do. Even during a rushed transition last spring, Gopher offensive coaches found time to visit Fort Worth to learn about TCU's shotgun offense. "One of our most effective play-action [passes] last year we got from that trip in February," Limegrover said. "We had a chance to spend some time with them talking about it, tweaked it to fit our players and what we needed from it, and it really turned out to be a good protection scheme for us."
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