Gophers QB Nelson: 'I knew I wanted Minnesota'

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2013 - 8:45 AM

Philip Nelson’s father wore Badgers red, but rumblings of change across the border made picking the Gophers a no-brainer.

The year was 1976, and Pat Nelson was a freshman fullback for Wisconsin, parading around Camp Randall Stadium with Paul Bunyan’s Axe after a 26-21 victory over the Gophers.

Now, 37 autumns later, Nelson hopes to get his hands on that Axe again. Only this time, he wants to swing it with his son — Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson.

“The other night, I talked to Philip, and we’re feeling pretty confident about this game,” Pat Nelson said. “I told him, when he gets that Axe, I’m coming down on that field, and we’re going to hold that thing together and take a lap. How wonderful would that be?” 

Well, for starters it would be Minnesota’s first victory over Wisconsin since 2003. And it would give the Gophers their first five-game Big Ten winning streak since 1962.

 

Both teams are 8-2, but the Gophers are 16½-point underdogs at TCF Bank Stadium against a 16th-ranked Badgers outfit that Gophers coach Jerry Kill has called “the most underrated team in the country.”

To win, the Gophers need to slow Wisconsin’s prolific running game, and they need Nelson to weather the cold and keep a hot hand.

During the winning streak, the sophomore quarterback has zero turnovers and 10 touchdowns — seven passing and three rushing.

“He’s playing at a very high level right now, with a lot of confidence,” Kill said.

Wisconsin roots

For much of Nelson’s life, his family figured his place in this rivalry would be much like his father’s. After college, Pat and Norma Nelson settled near Madison and started raising their children.

Pat is a mechanical engineer, and the family moved to Mankato in 2005, when he changed jobs. But they kept their season tickets at Camp Randall and made several trips back to Madison each year.

When Philip started putting up prolific passing numbers at Mankato West High School, the Badgers were definitely in the recruiting mix.

The family still gets a kick out of the photo from Philip’s 2010 recruiting trip to Wisconsin, the one in which he’s wearing the red jersey and red hat in the Badgers locker room, posing next to the Axe.

But the family kept an open mind during the recruiting process. Nelson’s father had been through a coaching change when he played for Wisconsin — from John Jardine to Dave McClain in 1978. The statistics on sports-reference.com show Pat Nelson getting one carry for 2 yards in 1977 and none after that.

“I kind of vowed that if Philip was given the opportunity to enter a Division I program, one of the prerequisites was that he wasn’t going to go to a team that had a staff that was tiptoeing on the line,” Pat Nelson said. “Because going through coaching changes is really tough.

“And that’s exactly why we ended up crossing Wisconsin off the list. Because [former Badgers offensive coordinator] Paul Chryst was out looking for a job during our recruitment.”

The Badgers signed another highly ranked quarterback from Nelson’s recruiting class — Bart Houston out of the football powerhouse at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif. He sits behind Joel Stave and Curt Phillips on the team’s depth chart.

After the 2011 season, Chryst took the head coaching job at Pittsburgh, taking three Badgers assistants with him. In all, then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema lost six assistant coaches that offseason, and one year later, Bielema left for Arkansas.

“So I kind of dodged a bullet there,” the younger Nelson said.

“It’s not like I ever really wanted to go to Wisconsin during my recruiting process because I knew I wanted Minnesota.

“But just looking back on it, that’s exactly what I didn’t want, to go into a situation where the coaches who recruited me ended up leaving.”

Landing in a stable place

Philip Nelson said his father was the first person in his family to “fall in love” with Kill’s staff. Besides the group’s track record for rebuilding programs, the chief reason was stability. Seven of Kill’s assistants have been with him for at least 13 years.

Nelson was one of the first members of the 2012 class to commit to Minnesota. A group including Maxx Williams, Mitch Leidner, Ben Lauer and Jonah Pirsig soon followed.

As fate would have it, Kill made the decision to pull Nelson’s redshirt last year after six games, just in time to play at Wisconsin. Nelson threw two touchdown passes but also threw two interceptions in a 38-13 loss.

Since then, Nelson has come a long away, and so has his supporting cast.

“Now I have about a year’s worth of games on me, and I know what to expect and what a victory takes in a game at the Division I level,” he said.

Nelson dealt with a hamstring injury last November, and the same injury bit him again this year in the season’s third game. The Gophers turned to Leidner, who earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after rushing for four touchdowns against San Jose State.

Nelson returned for the Sept. 28 game against Iowa, and threw two interceptions in a disappointing 23-7 loss. Only later did he acknowledge his hamstring wasn’t fully healed.

Leidner started the next three games, but Nelson came off the bench to help the Gophers beat Northwestern and Nebraska, then started again in wins over Indiana and Penn State.

“I’ve learned you’ve got to be healthy in order to perform well,” Nelson said. “And it’s difficult to play in this offense and stay healthy the whole year. That’s why Mitch and I know that it’s important to have each other.

“I’m really thankful that it’s been a civil competition, as well. It’s not like there’s any hatred between us at all. I like our relationship. I think we make each other better, which is what it’s all about.”

For now, it’s Nelson’s offense again. With junior David Cobb reeling off four consecutive 100-yard games, the Gophers have been on quite a roll.

If they pull another upset Saturday, look down on the field, and you’ll see a father and son, holding that Axe, with the gold side of the blade held close to their hearts.

 

  • related content

  • Video: Kill to fans: Bring your A-game to The Bank

    Saturday November 23, 2013

    Gophers coach Jerry Kill asked fans to help the team beat Wisconsin on Saturday at a pep rally at...

  • Read the replay: Border Battle Live Blog

    Wednesday August 28, 2013

    Photos, tweets and more from the Gophers-Badgers game at TCF Bank Stadium, and from Gophers fans who were following the game elsewhere.

  • Video: Gophers Football Plus: Axe on the line

    Thursday November 21, 2013

    Joe Christensen and Vineeta Sawkar wonder if the Gophers can keep Paul Bunyan's Axe from going back to Wisconsin...

  • Video: Gophers football players trying to stay focused

    Saturday November 23, 2013

    Saturday's game against Wisconsin is arguably the biggest game any current Gopher has played in.

  • The Call: No. 16 Wisconsin at Gophers

    Friday November 22, 2013

    THE CALL BY JOE CHRISTENSEN • JCHRISTENSEN@STARTRIBUNE.comTHE OPPONENTWisconsin has won five consecutive games since a 31-24 loss to...

  • Chart: Philip Nelson's improvement

    Friday November 22, 2013

    Hot handSophomore QB Philip Nelson has been instrumental in the Gophers’ four-game Big Ten winning streak. Here’s a look at...

  • Chart: Gophers-Badgers rivalry

    Friday November 22, 2013

    Big gameThe records: Gophers (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) vs. Badgers (8-2, 5-1)The rivalry: Wisconsin has won Paul Bunyan’s Axe nine...

  • Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson bonded with the fans who made the trip to Northwestern for a Gophers victory.

  • Philip Nelson posed with the Axe during a 2010 recruiting trip to Wisconsin.

  • Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson bonded with the fans who made the trip to Northwestern for a Gophers victory.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland - WP: J. Tomlin 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: S. Downs 2
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Bassitt 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado - WP: T. Matzek 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wada 2 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 13
Los Angeles - LP: J. Wright 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Stauffer 2
Milwaukee - LP: M. Fiers 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Peavy 3
Oakland - LP: J. Samardzija 0 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: Y. Herrera 2
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 3 FINAL
Seattle - LP: R. Elias 1
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 FINAL
Oklahoma State 31
(14) Wisconsin 24 FINAL
(13) LSU 28
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
South Dakota 13 FINAL
(3) Oregon 62
(25) Washington 17 FINAL
Hawaii 16
Utah State 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Portland 3 FINAL
Vancouver FC 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Gophers in their season opener

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close