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.
LINCOLN, NEB. – The stakes are huge for the Gophers, and the environment will be extremely tough.
Nebraska’s fans made a big impression on Jerry Kill two years ago. He noted how Memorial Stadium looked at least three-quarters full – during warm-ups. And it’ll be a sea of red for kickoff, with 340 consecutive sellouts here, and counting.
It’s Senior Day, just like it was for the Gophers visit in 2012. But that day, Nebraska was also honoring Tom Osborne for his last home game as A.D. The Huskers has Osborne lead the team out of the tunnel, and Kill said he knew his team was in trouble right there.
It was 24-0 at halftime, and 38-0 before MarQueis Gray ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the final 38-14.
But last year, the Gophers defeated Nebraska for the first time since 1960, a 34-23 triumph at TCF Bank Stadium. I caught up with Drew Goodger this week, reflecting on his unlikely role as hero in that win for Minnesota.
If the atmosphere doesn’t get to the Gophers today, I think they’ve got a good shot to win. Weather.com says it will be 41 degrees at kickoff, and 52 by game’s end. That should feel downright balmy to the Gophers.
And don’t miss this column by Chip Scoggins, who went into the film room to study all 254 of David Cobb’s runs. He tracked how many yards Cobb has after contact, and it’s not a small number.
I’ll post any other pregame updates here.
Ohio State kicked a 22-yard field goal as time expired on the first half to take a 17-14 lead into the locker room. A few quick takeaways:
* Ohio State has outgained the Gophers 354-133, but Minnesota has been opportunistic. The Gophers lead the turnover battle 2-0 and have 14 points off turnovers. They trailed 14-0 before scoring the next 14 points.
* Mitch Leidner has completed just 2 of 6 passes for 15 yards, but David Cobb has 16 carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
* Briean Boddy-Calhoun has been the difference maker for the Gophers on defense. He returned an interception 56 yards, setting up Minnesota’s first touchdown, and forced the fumble near the goal line when Ohio State was about to take a 21-7 lead. De’Vondre Campbell recovered that fumble, and the Gophers went right down the field and scored to make it 14-14.
Boddy-Calhoun also had a big pass break up on Ohio State's last drive of the half. He's putting on a show.
* J.T. Barrett has nine rushes for 168 yards. Much of it has come on the same play. A QB keeper where he fakes right and takes off going left. That resulted in his 86-yard TD run to open the scoring.
* The game-time temperature was 15 degrees, making it the coldest for the Gophers in five years at TCF Bank Stadium. It was 18 degrees for kickoff last Nov. 23 against Wisconsin. There have been light flurries throughout the game.
The TCF Bank Stadium said it was 10 degrees, as the Gophers arrived for today's 11 a.m., kickoff against Ohio State. There is very little wind, though, so that will help keep things warmer, and the new heat coils will keep the playing surface nice and soft.
Snow is the wild card. It looks like there's about a 30 percent chance of snow showers during the game. The Gophers practiced in falling snow twice this week. I think they would welcome it today.
Update: Snow flurries started about 9:50 a.m. It's 15 degrees for kickoff, coldest for the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. It was 18 degrees for last November's game against Wisconsin.
Possible X factor: This will be the Gophers' fifth consecutive 11 a.m., kickoff. Ohio State's past three games, meanwhile, were all 8 p.m. (Eastern) kicks.
Uni watch: The Gophers are wearing gold helmets, gold jerseys and white pants.
Lessons from TCU
I keep thinking back to the TCU game. That's the best point of reference for this matchup against Ohio State. The Gophers committed five turnovers that day in a 30-7 loss. Mitch Leidner had sprained his MCL one week earlier and was a shell of himself.
But the TCU offense, statistically, is even better than Ohio State's. The Horned Frogs capitalized on turnovers, using a short field to help build that 24-0 lead. So it was basically over there, but Gary Patterson kept his foot on the pedal, hoping to get the TCU offense ready for the Big 12. The Horned Frogs managed just two field goals after halftime. Trevone Boykin was so frustrated at one point, he spiked the ball.
If the Gophers can avoid turnovers, they'll have a chance today. They are 18-1 under Jerry Kill when they win the turnover battle and 2-16 when they don't. And they are 20-0 under Kill when they lead at halftime.
Links to get you ready
The Gophers have a chance to complete a rare undefeated home season, which would be the ultimate sendoff for this senior class.
Talent might be an issue for the Gophers against Ohio State, but not toughness, Patrick Reusse writes.
Here's a closer look at the matchups, and my prediction.
Check out our Live Blog, with pictures and thoughts from inside and outside of the stadium.
The Gophers scored 35 unanswered points to take a stunning 35-7 lead into halftime. Some quick takeaways:
* Iowa went 3-for-3 on third down and scored on its first drive, but the Gophers came right back and scored on their first drive. KJ Maye started Minnesota's drive with a jet sweep to the left, drawing a late hit, and finished with a jet sweep to the left for a nine-yard TD. The Gophers kept running it, too, as Maye has six carries for a team-leading 53 yards.
* Gophers CB Eric Murray bounced back from a rough first drive to make a two key plays, helping the Gophers take the lead. He blitzed, forcing Rudock to hurry his pass on third down. The Hawkeyes were 5-for-5 on third down before that play. Then, Murray deflected Iowa's punt, which traveled just 14 yards, giving the Gophers the ball at the Iowa 44.
* Iowa scored on that first drive, but Minnesota's defense has stuffed the Hawkeyes since. The Gophers lead the turnover battle 3-0.
* Mitch Leidner hit Donovahn Jones for a 44-yard TD after the deflected punt. Leidner had an excellent first half, completing 7 of 9 passes for 106 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran seven times for 38 yards.
* Maxx Williams did it again. You think you've seen everything from this guy, and then he makes a play like he did, dragging his left toe before the sideline to make a key 25-yard pass on third down. That set up Minnesota's third touchdown, fittingly a nine-yard pass from Leidner to Williams. Williams had four catches for 43 yards and two touchdowns.
* Damien Wilson, the Big Ten's second-leading tackler, opened the game on the bench. True freshman Everett Williams started at middle linebacker for the Gophers and played the first two series. Wilson took the field with 10 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
* David Cobb has 11 carries for 50 yards and a TD.
I listened to the radio call of the Iowa/Northwestern game last Saturday while raking leaves, knowing that project had to get done on the Gophers bye week.
The Hawkeyes jumped to a 24-0 lead and buried the Wildcats 48-7. The radio crew chose offensive tackle Brandon Scherff as the player of the game, and that told me something about the way Iowa appreciates the battles in the trenches.
Scherff, of course, is about as good as they get, a probable Top 5 NFL draft pick.
“By far, they're the best line we've played all year,” Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “I mean he's a good player, but there's not a weak link up there, up front that you can take advantage of.”
That said, I think the Gophers defense is due for a superlative day. I think it comes here, in this emotionally charged atmosphere, with Floyd of Rosedale on the line.
Talk about Mitch Leidner and David Cobb all you want, but to do anything on offense, it's going to take a far better performance from the offensive line. As I wrote earlier this week, the O-line is banged up, especially at right guard, and they'll be facing a very good Iowa front four.
The Gophers were 1.5-point underdogs most of the week, but the line in the paper this morning had them favored by 1 point. Interesting.
I wrote here about how Mitch Leidner took a long look at Iowa as a recruit but didn’t get a scholarship offer. He has a chance today to show the Hawkeyes what they missed.
November stands as the ultimate referendum on how the Gophers will be judged, Chip Scoggins writes.
After a bad stumble, Iowa arrives running at full speed, Jason Gonzalez writes.
Sid Hartman is calling this the Gophers' "biggest game of the year" and says, "I am looking forward to this game as much as I’ve looked forward to a Gophers football game in a long, long time.
Here’s a closer look at the matchups and my prediction.
Our Live Blog is already up and running with photos of the tailgate action, etc.
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