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.
ORLANDO -- Gophers coach Jerry Kill met the media Wednesday and sounded confident about his team's preparation for Thursday's Citrus Bowl against Missouri.
"I really feel good about our players," Kill said. "I mean they have practiced very hard. We’ve had excellent practices. Yesterday, we were very sharp. So we feel good going in. Now that doesn’t guarantee you anything, but it’s a lot different than it was a year ago [at the Texas Bowl], I can tell you that.
"The kids bounced around a little bit. I think they’ve had a good time, but when we work, it’s different. So I’m excited about watching them play. As a coaching staff, we feel very comfortable. We’ve got a good plan, we’ve just got to go execute it. So we’ll see."
One injury note: Kill said offensive tackle Ben Lauer won't play. Lauer had mono this month and returned to practice this week but isn't ready to play a game. Jonah Pirsig will make his fifth consecutive start at right tackle, and not having Lauer will test the Gophers' depth.
Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys doesn't mind confidence. He knows good teams thrive on it. But he didn't seem happy that linebacker De'Vondre Campbell predicted the Gophers would face Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
After Saturday's 31-24 loss to Ohio State, Campbell said, “I think we have a great chance to beat Nebraska and Wisconsin. We’ve just got to get back to the lab, correct our mistakes from today, and I think we’ll be fine. We’re not too worried about it. We’ll see [Ohio State] again in three weeks.”
On Tuesday, Claeys said, "Maybe at one time that was acceptable around here, but it's not. So they better be ready to play [Saturday at Nebraska], or we'll lose again. It's hard to win on the road. I like the confidence of the kids, but you've got to play them one at a time. Already been in trouble once trying to look ahead so hopefully they learned from that."
That last sentence was a reference to the 28-24 loss at Illinois on Oct. 25.
David Cobb still ranks third in the nation with 25.2 rushes per game, but the Gophers lightened his load in last week’s win over Iowa, giving him 16 carries for 74 yards. And the week before that, Minnesota had a bye.
“I was just telling my running backs coach I feel as good as I did at the start of the season,” said Cobb, who ranks ninth in the nation with 133.9 yards per game.
Cobb made an impact even when he wasn’t carrying the ball against Iowa. Coach Jerry Kill was thrilled with Cobb’s blocking, which helped give Mitch Leidner more time to pass and helped open holes for KJ Maye on the jet sweep. Blocking well will only help raise Cobb’s NFL Draft stock.
“They all know he can run, and if he blocks well, he’ll make a lot of money,” Kill said. “So I think a good back does that, and it is unselfish. But if you want to have all the goals that he has in life, he knows he’s got to be able to block.”
Like a lot of people at the university, Gophers coach Jerry Kill was saddened last weekend by the death of Regent David M. Larson.
Larson, a former Cargill executive, died at age 70 after a brief illness. Before his death, Larson had asked that memorials be made to Kill's Chasing Dreams Fund, which benefits children with epilepsy.
"The University of Minnesota lost a great leader with the passing of Regent David Larson," Kill said in a statement Wednesday. "He was a proud Minnesota alum and a tremendous advocate for the university, but he was also my friend and truly loved Gopher Football.
"From the moment I stepped on campus I knew he was a special man. He never said much. Instead, Regent Larson chose to let his actions show how passionate he was, as he quietly played a large role in helping us find success. The man was committed to making sure that our players achieved victory in the classroom and on the field.
"Regent Larson was always gracious with his time, resources and knowledge and his support was unwavering. In true fashion, one of his last decisions was also one of his most generous, as he asked that memorials be made to my Chasing Dreams fund, which benefits children with epilepsy.
"That selfless sense of giving touched my heart and defines who he was and what his family is all about. Regent Larson will be greatly missed and my thoughts, and all those associated with our program, are with his wife, Janis, children and extended family."
With the Gophers continuing to win under fourth-year coach Jerry Kill, the speculation was bound to start sometime. How long before another school tries to swoop him away?
This week, SI.com mentioned Kill as a potential fit at Michigan if Brady Hoke gets fired, saying Kill “would be a wonderful fit in Ann Arbor, as all he’s done is win at Southern Illinois and now Minnesota.”
Asked about the Michigan speculation Thursday on his weekly radio show, Kill told 100.3-FM, “Number one, Brady [Hoke] is my friend. And number two, that lady there is in charge.”
Kill was pointing to his wife, Rebecca, and has often said how much their family enjoys Minnesota.
“It's a compliment,” Kill said of the speculation. “But I've seen a lot of coaches get caught up in all of that stuff, and that's when you're not successful. I've said all along, this is my home. As long as people want me here, I'm in good shape.
“If we don't beat Illinois [on Saturday], they may be calling me in and there won't be any mention, except get a road map. So I think it’s more important for us to take care of that.”
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