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.
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:
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
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."
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.
Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson knew he’d be sore after getting a hip pointer injury in Saturday’s win at Indiana. But Nelson is managing the pain, and he said he’d be able to practice Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s just a little painful, but the good thing with hips is they can’t get much worse,” Nelson said. “And the only way you can make them better is by continuing to keep moving them, so that’s where I’m at right now.”
In other injury news, Gophers coach Jerry Kill said wide receiver Derrick Engel is questionable for Saturday’s game against Penn State because of a sprained ankle.
“He’s going to be limited [in practice] today, and we’ll see how his progression goes through the week,” Kill said. “He’s got an ankle sprain, and didn’t do much on Sunday, ran a little this morning. … He’s not running full speed. We’ll know more Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and he’s going to do everything he can to be ready.”
Kill said he plans to coach from the press box again Saturday, with Tracy Claeys remaining on the sideline as acting head coach.
“I guess I’m CEO right now, and me in the box right now is the best for the football team and the best for the coach,” Kill said. “And you have to have somebody operating down on the field, an Tracy’s the guy that needs to do that.
“If there’s a situation where if it’s a difficult situation, and I need to come down [to the sideline], then I’m going to do what’s best for the football team, and I’m going to suck it up. Coach [Claeys] is doing a good job.
“I called plays for a lot of years on the boundary. It’s not easy but you can do it, and he’s a pretty gifted, smart, guy.
“Right now, it all goes back to – we’ve won three straight games, and I know from being up in the box, actually I can see better. So I can be a part of a lot of things, and I’ve got people I trust. So why fix something that’s working? My ego’s not that big.”
After Tuesday’s press conference, Kill sat down for an interview with ESPN’s Samantha Ponder for a segment that will run as part of “College GameDay” on Saturday morning.
Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson and punter Peter Mortell were named Big Ten Players of the Week on Monday for their performances in Saturday's 42-39 victory at Indiana.
Nelson was named Co-Offensive Player of the Week, along with Penn State running back Bill Belton. Nelson had career highs for passing yards (298), completions (16) and touchdowns (four). He returned from a hip pointer injury to hit Maxx Williams for the go-ahead, 50-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
Nelson is the first Gopher to earn Big Ten offensive player of the week honors since Adam Weber on Nov. 1, 2009.
Mortell averaged 43 yards on his five punts, placing two inside the 20-yard line.
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