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.
Here’s some quick notes from Jerry Kill’s weekly radio show with Mike Grimm and Mark Rosen today on 100.3-FM:
* Defensive end Alex Keith will miss Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee State, but Kill said the team hopes to have Keith back for the Sept. 13 game against TCU. Kill didn’t specify what the injury is, but Keith appeared to hurt his left knee after recovering two fumbles against Eastern Illinois. Kill added that the team will be careful with Keith, since the most important thing is having players healthy for the Big Ten slate.
* Defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms will be available to play Saturday, if needed. Timms appeared to injure an ankle in the season opener.
* Kill reiterated that wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, offensive tackle Ben Lauer and defensive end Michael Amaefula all are ready to return Saturday.
* Kill said linebacker Cody Poock, who is recovering from a torn ACL, has already taken part in contact drills in practice. Kill was quick to say that doesn't mean Poock is close to returning soon. But with Scott Ekpe facing the same surgery, Kill was noting how quickly players can come back from the injury.
* Kill said playing Middle Tennessee State is very similar to playing Syracuse in last year’s Texas Bowl. Syracuse was 6-6, and the Gophers were favored, but the Orange wound up winning 21-17. “We need to understand how good they are,” Kill said. “And I think our football team does. Our schedule, you need to go to work every day, and our kids understand that.”
* Asked about Eastern Illinois’ onside kick when trailing 42-14 with 28 seconds remaining last week, Kill said, “I think there’s a way to handle that and not, and I wasn’t very happy. You could tell after the game, I wasn’t very happy.” Kill noted how dangerous onside kicks can be injury-wise, and that game had been decided. Eastern Illinois scored another touchdown on the game’s final play to make it 42-20.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill said running back Jeff Jones was excited for his first day of class today at the university and that the team hopes Jones is eligible to begin practicing for spring semester.
Kill didn't give specifics, but this likely means that Jones has been granted partial approval of an initial eligibility waiver by the NCAA. Jones can't take part in team activities, including practices, this fall, but would be eligible for spring semester if he posts a 2.5 GPA this fall.
Jones was right on the bubble to qualify for Division I coming out of Minneapolis Washburn high school. After applying for the initial eligibility waiver, Jones was granted his athletic scholarship, and now he has a chance to prove himself in the classroom.
"I think he's happy and excited," Kill said. "First day of school. You know, I saw him this morning. Hopefully he'll be practicing in the spring. There's certain things that I won't mention, how the NCAA works and all that. But cautiously optimistic to see how that works out."
Jones could be a big part of the team next fall, with running backs David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood graduating.
Ekpe likely out for season
Kill said it looks pretty certain that defensive tackle Scott Ekpe is out for the season with a knee injury. Ekpe is a junior and would be able to get a medical redshirt year, giving him two more years of eligibility.
"That's a major blow," Kill said.
Ekpe made his first career start in the season opener against Eastern Illinois, but injured the knee during the first quarter.
Ekpe played in all 13 games the past two seasons, recording 33 tackles, including five tackles for a loss. To fill his place, the Gophers likely will tab true freshman Steven Richardson to start next to senior defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli.
Kill also said the Gophers have moved Harold Legania back to defensive tackle. He had moved to the offensive line late in training camp.
Other injury notes
Kill said wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky will be ready to play Saturday against Middle Tennessee State. Wolitarsky missed last week's game with an injury near his shoulder.
Kill didn't give specifics on the injuries and said he'd need to see how the week goes along for defensive end Alex Keith and defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms.
"They're not lost for the season, and we'll see how this week progresses with them," Kill said.
Keith made his first career start against Eastern Illinois and delivered a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries before injuring his left leg. Keith was filling in for starting defensive end Michael Amaefula, who missed the opener with a knee injury but is expected to return for Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee.
Jerry Kill took note of the defensive line injuries Wisconsin suffered in Saturday's loss to LSU and could feel the Badgers pain.
Wisconsin lost Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring. The Badgers needed to replace their front seven from last year's team, and once those starters went down, LSU steamrolled them.
Meanwhile, the Gophers are dealing with leg injuries to defensive linemen Scott Ekpe, Alex Keith and Yoshoub Timms from Thursday's win over Eastern Illinois.
"It doesn't look real good for at least one of them," Kill said Sunday on his weekly appearance with Sid Hartman and Dave Mona on 830-AM. "That's definitely a concern we're addressing as we speak."
Kill didn't give specifics, but there were indications Friday that Ekpe could have suffered a season-ending knee injury. Kill's next scheduled media appearance is Tuesday at his weekly press conference. Here's my story looking at how those injuries could impact the Gophers moving forward.
Three Gophers defensive linemen are having MRIs for leg injuries today, and the team is particularly concerned about starting defensive tackle Scott Ekpe's right knee.
Ekpe injured his right knee early in Thursday's season opener. He went to the sidelines, had ice on the knee, and was later seen on crutches. Coach Jerry Kill didn't have any specific updates today, but confirmed that three players are having MRIs.
Defensive end Alex Keith also has a left knee injury that has the team concerned, and defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms appeared to injure his left ankle.
"You can’t lose any front-line players and be where you need to be," Kill said. "You can have all the depth in the world but then you get less depth. To be successful. You’ve got to stay healthy. You’ve got to be lucky, so hopefully we’ll get lucky on this deal, we’ll have to see."
Kill said he might not have details until Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.
Kill said defensive end Michael Amaefula and wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky will be back from their respective injuries for the Sept. 6 game against Middle Tennessee State. Offensive tackle Ben Lauer also should be ready to return from his high ankle sprain.
Filling in for Amaefula, Keith had a terrific game against Eastern Illinois, with a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
"Kids mature," Kill said of Keith. "I would say he’s the David Cobb of the defense. He’s matured. I just hope he’s OK."
All in all, it was a pretty good night for the Gophers. Not a bad way to start the season.
The defense was terrific, as Amelia Rayno writes here, but coach Jerry Kill is admittedly concerned about injuries along the defensive line.
The talent is there for Mitch Leidner; he just needs to find it, Jim Souhan writes.
Sid Hartman thinks the Gophers have plenty of room to improve.
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