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.
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.
HOUSTON -- Gophers coach Jerry Kill contemplated a return to the sidelines for Friday's Texas Bowl, but decided to coach from the press box for the seventh consecutive game.
SCOUTING SYRACUSE'S OFFENSE
Syracuse sophomore quarterback Terrell Hunt had a rough October, completing just 43.1 percent of his passes for 194 yards with no touchdowns and six interceptions, as noted here by Syracuse.com. But in November, he completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns. In the regular season finale against Boston College, he passed for 270 yards and rushed for 90.
"I think what makes him more challenging is he isn’t necessarily known as a dual threat," Gophers cornerback Brock Vereen said. "He doesn’t look to run first. So they can kind of lull you to sleep a little bit. He presents himself as a pocket passer, and before you know it, he’s rushing for 20 yards up the field. So we can’t fall asleep on him. He’s definitely an athlete."
SCOUTING SYRACUSE'S DEFENSE
On defense, Syracuse has several playmakers, as noted here in this story written for the Star Tribune by Stephen Bailey. Three to watch are defensive tackle Jay Bromley and linebackers Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis.
"You definitely see how good they are up front," Gophers running back David Cobb said. "Their linebackers and secondary -- they all crash to the ball, and it’s not just one guy, it’s one, two, three, four. They have guys on great pursuit angles, and they don’t give up on the play. It’s a big challenge for us, but our guys up front will accept the challenge and I’ll accept the challenge, and we’ll be ready to play just like them."
Update: The Gophers will be wearing white helmets with maroon jerseys, white pants and maroon socks. Syracuse also will be unveiling new helmets -- an orange and blue blend -- with white jerseys and blue pants.
Check back here for a few other pregame notes, as well as a halftime post and game story right after the final gun. Follow along on Twitter @JoeCStrib.
EAST LANSING, MICH. – Michigan State scored a touchdown on the first drive of each half Saturday and relied on one of the nation’s top defenses to do the rest in a 14-3 victory over the Gophers.
Minnesota reached the red zone three times, producing just three points, and has now played 10 consecutive quarters without playing an offensive touchdown.
Quarterback Philip Nelson left the game in the fourth quarter and did not return after being checked for a concussion. Mitch Leidner finished the game at quarterback for Minnesota. Gophers senior cornerback Brock Vereen left the game in the first quarter with a left arm injury and did not return.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill said he spoke to Nelson after the game, and the sophomore quarterback told him he was "OK." Kill declined to give injury updates.
"We have three or four guys banged up, but that’s part of football and hopefully we’ll get them all healed up," Kill said.
An announced crowd of 71,418 watched the Spartans (11-1, 8-0 in the Big Ten) tune up for next week’s conference championship game against Ohio State.
The Gophers (8-4, 4-4) will take a two-game losing streak into a bowl game to be determined. Much like last week’s 20-7 loss to Wisconsin, Minnesota showed signs of growth and toughness but simply couldn't score against a very tough defense.
The Spartans came in leading the nation in total defense (236.6 yards) and rushing defense (59.4 yards).
The Gophers actually held their own statistically, gaining 249 total yards and rushing for 125. David Cobb rushed 27 times for 101 yards.
But Nelson had a rough day even before taking the big hit, completing just six of 18 passes for 77 yards, with his first two interceptions since Sept. 28.
EAST LANSING, MICH. -- The Gophers gave up a quick touchdown to Michigan State on Saturday but showed some toughness for the rest of the first half, as the Spartans went to the locker room with a 7-3 lead.
The Gophers have now gone eight consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown, but they have been very competitive in this one, gaining 112 yards to Michigan State's 136 and controlling the ball for 19:52 compared to 10:08 for the Spartans.
On its first drive, Michigan State marched 80 yards for a touchdown showing off the strengths of this year’s offense. Connor Cook completed three passes, and Jeremy Langford had several big gains before racing for a 15-yard score.
The Gophers first three drives went: punt, interception, punt.
Mitch Leidner took over for Philip Nelson on the fourth drive, but the Gophers went three-and-out again. Nelson returned for the next drive, and the Gophers, successfully executed a fake punt en route to a 21-yard Chris Hawthorne field goal.
Nelson, who hadn’t thrown an interception since Sept. 28, was picked off twice in the first half, both times by Trae Waynes.
David Cobb suffered a lacerated right knee in the first half but was able to return. Gophers senior cornerback Brock Vereen injured his left arm and did not return.
Those injury updates are courtesy of KFAN's Justin Gaard from the sideline.
EAST LANSING, MICH. – The Gophers are hoping for their first nine-win season since they went 10-3 in 2003, but to get there today, their offense needs to find a way to solve one of college football’s best defenses.
No. 11 Michigan State leads the nation in total defense (236.6 yards per game), and the Gophers have a streak of six consecutive quarters of scoreless offense. Minnesota scored all 24 of its points against Penn State in the first half, and its only touchdown against Wisconsin came on Aaron Hill’s interception return.
Michigan State (10-1, 7-0 Big Ten) is concerned about no shows today at 75,000-seat Spartan Stadium. Fans know no matter what happens against the Gophers, the Spartans have a date with Ohio State next Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game.
From Graham Couch’s column in today’s Lansing State Journal:
MSU is bracing for 20,000 or more empty seats Saturday, fearing cold weather, the brand of its opponent and the Thanksgiving holiday will put a severe dent in attendance. The Spartan coaching brass — Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo — are pleading for your consideration, for your respect of the winningest senior class in MSU football history, to your sense of loyalty to the program.
"We need you there," Dantonio said. “If you’re a Spartan, you need to be there. ... If you can make it, come on.”
Added Izzo: “If people don’t want to go because of the weather or this or that, find somebody to give their tickets to. A lot of needy people out there.”
It’s expected to be about 33 degrees for kickoff, and warming into the upper 30’s during the game. That should feel a lot better for the Gophers after playing last week’s game with a 5-degree wind chill.
Update: The Gophers are wearing white jerseys with maroon pants today. The Spartans are wearing green jerseys with white pants.
Follow along on Twitter: @JoeCStrib
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