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 Gopher quarterbacks

Halftime: Syracuse leads Gophers 7-3; Kill returns to sideline for second half

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: December 27, 2013 - 6:56 PM

HOUSTON -- Playing their first game in 27 days, the Gophers showed serious signs of rust in the first half of their Texas Bowl matchup against Syracuse on Friday and went to the locker room trailing 7-3.

Minnesota has now played 12 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown.

With only a few thousand fans on hand at 71,000-seat Reliant Stadium, the Gophers tried two quarterbacks but could get nothing going offensively.

Philip Nelson started the game and played the first two series – a three-and-out, followed by a fumble by Isaac Fruechte.

Mitch Leidner took over for the third series and finished the half. It might have been injury related for Nelson, as Leidner had some shaky moments of his own. Nelson loosened up on the sidelines but didn’t return.

Syracuse went on an 11-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from Jerome Smith for a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Chris Hawthorne trimmed the lead to 7-3 with a 41-yard field goal at the end of the half.

Update: Jerry Kill returned to the sideline for the start of the second half. Tracy Claeys remained on the sideline, too.

Nelson back at full speed; Limegrover plans to stay; Kill undecided about return to sideline

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: December 18, 2013 - 6:28 PM


Gophers offensive coordinator Matt  Limegrover was asked if he'll be back next season or if he might go looking for a head coaching job.

"No, I’m back, I’m having too much fun," he said. "I’ve had more fun this year than I have probably in my entire career, coaching the group of guys that we have, working with the offensive staff, so unless you know something I don’t -- that they’re going to kick me out -- I’d like to be back."

Asked if he'd like to become a head coach someday, Limegrover said, "I’d like to, yeah. But I think the biggest thing is that we’ve got a lot of work to do here, and I don’t like leaving work unfinished. So until I can get that squared away, I think I’m right where I need to be."

KILL NOT SURE WHERE HE'LL COACH

Kill was asked if he plans to continue coaching in the press box or return to the sideline for the bowl game, and he said he doesn't know.

"I’m not avoiding your question." Kill said. "I really can’t comment on any of that right now because I don’t know. I just have to see. And we’ll do what’s best for the program, like we always have, and everybody – I’m doing fine, but it’s one of those things. I talked to Coach [Tracy Claeys] a couple days ago, and we talked a little bit, and we’ll worry about that as we get closer."

NELSON BACK TO FULL STRENGTH

Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and head coach Jerry Kill were among those who met with the media after Wednesday's practice.

Nelson said it took him "about a week" to recover physically after getting shaken up in the regular season finale against Michigan State. But he's been able to practice at full speed in preparation for the Texas Bowl against Syracuse on Dec. 27 and sees similarities to how things went leading up to last year's bowl game.

"I think we’re doing a good job right now of just getting our feet underneath us again, and really putting in some new things and keep working hard on the things we already do well," Nelson said. "So we’ve got a good little balance going right  now, and it’s feeling a lot like last year. So hopefully it plays out like last year, with how we played."

Stats help explain Gophers turnaround

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 18, 2013 - 4:08 PM

My assignment for the Tuesday paper was to write about the five biggest reasons for this year's Gophers football turnaround. Look for that later in tonight's first editions.

Meantime, I looked up a bunch of Gophers stats, comparing this year to last year. In no particular order, here's what I found:

Category: 2012/2013

Average time of possession: 31:03/33:23

Philip Nelson’s passer rating: 104.4/141.6

Turnover margin: -2 (22 committed, 20 caused)/+6 (9 committed, 15 caused)

Points scored per game: 22.1/30.7

Points allowed per game: 24.7/23.4

Yardage allowed per game: 358.6/380.8

Yardage gained per game: 321.4/367.9

Rushing yardage per game: 151.9/218.5

Leading rusher: Donnell Kirkwood 73.7 yards per game/David Cobb 94.2

Fourth down conversions: 7-for-16, 44%/11-for-14, 78.6 %

Penalty yardage per game: 50.2/36.4

Net punting average: Christian Eldred (primarily) 34.2 yards per punt/Peter Mortell 38.1

Field goals: Jordan Wettstein 14-for-22/Chris Hawthorne 12-for-15

Nelson says hip feels better, credits coaches for team's ability to limit turnovers

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 12, 2013 - 3:53 PM

I sat down with Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson today for a story that will run next week. The Gophers have a bye before playing Wisconsin on Nov. 23 in one of their most anticipated games in years.

Nelson said the hip pointer that he suffered during the Indiana game on Nov. 2 feels better now than it did last week. He took another hit on the same right hip early in last Saturday's victory over Penn State.

"The training staff created a little extra padding around that hip, and that saved me really," he said. "You've just got to realize that hip pointers are just a bruise, and it's just a matter of playing through pain, moving around and getting blood flow through it."

Nelson hasn't fumbled or thrown an interception since the Sept. 28 loss to Iowa. During the Gophers' four-game winning streak, he has passed for seven touchdowns and rushed for three more. In Big Ten games, he ranks fourth in Pass Efficiency, at 159.4, behind Braxton Miller (178.4), Devin Gardner (167.5) and Tre Roberson (160.4).

As a team, the Gophers have just two turnovers during their winning streak, compared to eight for their opponents.

"Our coaches do a great job of really emphasizing that," Nelson said. "All throughout fall camp, you don’t want to turn the ball over because then you end up on the Critical Error Chart. I think us an offense not turning the ball over that much lately is a credit to our coaches really putting a great emphasis on that."

Engel makes quick progress with ankle injury; Nelson playing through hip pain; Harbison update

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 6, 2013 - 7:01 PM

Some quick updates from Wednesday's practice:

Coach Jerry Kill said he was surprised with how much Derrick Engel was able to do in practice tonight after spraining his ankle last Saturday at Indiana.

Quarterback Philip Nelson is still dealing with some hip pain, but he practiced again.

Wide receiver Jamel Harbison, who did not make the trip to Indiana, will not play against Penn State on Saturday, Kill said, declining to elaborate.

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