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.
ORLANDO -- Missouri leads the Gophers 10-7 at halftime of the Citrus bowl. A few takeaways:
* First of all – the fans. From his view on the field, Star Tribune photographer Jerry Holt estimates that there are at least 15,000 Gophers fans here. Minnesota’s contingent is much bigger and louder than Missouri’s.
* It was 72 degrees at kickoff. Mostly cloudy.
* The yardage is even 184-184, but it was a tail of two quarters. The Gophers outgained Missouri 143-28 in the first quarter, and Missouri outgained Minnesota 156-41 in the second.
* Mitch Leidner has completed 11 of 12 passes for 96 yards.
* Maty Mauk threw interceptions to end Missouri’s first two drives. Derrick Wells tracked down Mauk’s errant heave to end the first drive. Then, when Mauk took a shot to the end zone for Darius White, and Briean Boddy-Calhoun pulled it right out of White’s hands. It was much like Boddy-Calhoun’s strip of De’Mornay Pierson-El to seal the win at Nebraska.
* Leidner fumbled on Minnesota’s first possession when he got swarmed by Missouri’s standout defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden. But the Gophers went 11 plays and 80 yards for a touchdown on their second drive. Rodrick Williams capped it with a 20-yard TD run.
* Ray has been limping. Potential Top 5 NFL pick does not appear to be at full strength.
* Missouri went 3-and-out on its third drive and almost did again on its fourth drive. But Gary Pinkel gambled with a fake punt from the Mizzou 17-yard line, and it worked as Harold Brantley (a nose guard) rumbled for 18 yards. Missouri punted for real later in the drive, pinning the Gophers at their own 2-yard line.
* That field position helped Missouri get its first points on an Andrew Baggett 22-yard field goal with 6:39 left in the second quarter.
Boddy-Calhoun got turned around, covering Bud Sasser, when Mauk found Sasser for a 25-yard touchdown.
* The Gophers got the ball back with 1:04 left in the second quarter, but were very conservative. Coach Jerry Kill told sideline reporter Justin Gaard that he wanted to be careful not to turn over the ball, knowing the Gophers get the ball to start the third quarter.
ORLANDO -- I got to the Citrus Bowl and started working on my pregame blog. Then I saw this tweet from Cedric Thompson.
Before I take my last steps on the field as a Gopher I wanted to let all of Minnesota know how much I love you guys. pic.twitter.com/eugKtb3wkP— Cedric Thompson Jr.™ (@cedjunior2) January 1, 2015
I am speechless. Getting the chance to tell the story of Thompson's rise from Bombay Beach, Calif., was something I'll never forget. Today is a big day for Thompson and his fellow seniors. Here's Chip Scoggins' column on their impact on the program.
It's been 4.5 weeks since the Gophers last played a game, and 3.5 for Missouri. Both teams have been on a mission to make sure there's no rust, but it could be a factor.
I think Missouri has a good team. I think the Gophers have proven they can play with good teams.
"Our losses, except for the Illinois game, are to the Top 15 teams in the country," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "And all of them, except for TCU, we had a chance in the fourth quarter, if we make a few plays, to win those ballgames."
I expect a close, low-scoring game today. Both defenses are tough and both offenses have had their struggles. It should a lot of fun to watch. Here's my prediction.
ORLANDO -- Gophers coach Jerry Kill met the media Wednesday and sounded confident about his team's preparation for Thursday's Citrus Bowl against Missouri.
"I really feel good about our players," Kill said. "I mean they have practiced very hard. We’ve had excellent practices. Yesterday, we were very sharp. So we feel good going in. Now that doesn’t guarantee you anything, but it’s a lot different than it was a year ago [at the Texas Bowl], I can tell you that.
"The kids bounced around a little bit. I think they’ve had a good time, but when we work, it’s different. So I’m excited about watching them play. As a coaching staff, we feel very comfortable. We’ve got a good plan, we’ve just got to go execute it. So we’ll see."
One injury note: Kill said offensive tackle Ben Lauer won't play. Lauer had mono this month and returned to practice this week but isn't ready to play a game. Jonah Pirsig will make his fifth consecutive start at right tackle, and not having Lauer will test the Gophers' depth.
ORLANDO -- Buffalo Wild Wings is headquartered in Minneapolis. This is the first year the company has sponsored the Citrus Bowl, and the Gophers somehow landed a spot in it, giving them their first New Year’s Day bowl berth since 1962.
Conspiracy buffs might wonder if the Minnesota-based company pulled some strings.
“It’s coincidental because we have no role in picking the teams that play in the game,” Bob Ruhland, the company’s vice president of North American marketing said.
Ruhland works in Minneapolis, but on Tuesday, he was at the Buffalo Wild Wings on International Drive in Orlando, where the Gophers and Missouri held press conferences.
On Dec. 7, when the bowl selections were announced, the Gophers appeared to catch a huge break when Mississippi State jumped ahead of Michigan State in the College Football Playoff rankings. This happened even though neither team played the previous week.
Had they been left in reverse, Michigan State would have gone to the Orange Bowl, which would have precluded the Big Ten from sending a team to the Citrus Bowl. But Michigan State went to the Cotton Bowl, and the Citrus Bowl grabbed the Gophers. Wisconsin would have been another choice, but they played in Orlando last year, when it was called the Capital One Bowl.
“It never really looked as if it was going to be the Gophers,” Ruhland said. “It’s interesting how all the planets aligned. It’s definitely a coincidence, but we’re happy with how it turned out. We’re totally psyched to have the Gophers get to be in our inaugural year sponsoring this bowl.”
ESPN and the conferences are big players when it comes to determining these bowl matchups. The Michigan State/Mississippi State flip prevented the Big Ten from having one bowl eligible team – likely Illinois – miss a bowl game altogether. And it helped the Gophers, too.
Ruhland noted that Buffalo Wild Wings has restaurants in all 50 states. There are 37 locations in Minnesota, and 34 in Missouri. So what result does the company want Thursday?
“We’re known as the proud sponsor of overtime,” Ruhland said. “So we would love to have an overtime game.”
ORLANDO, FLA. -- Gophers coach Jerry Kill had another chance to watch the freshmen who are redshirting during Saturday's practice and liked what he saw. He has long pined for a rule change that would allow teams to use the redshirted players in bowl games.
"We’ve got three or four guys that would start for us, if they were in the bowl game," Kill said. "I wish we had a rule where they could play. It makes sense because we’re starting a new year, and then everybody goes into the bowl games limping in because of injuries."
Kill didn't want to name names, but true freshmen wide receivers Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant, Jerry Gibson and Melvin Holland Jr. would all be starting candidates.
"We’ve got four wide receivers that we’ve redshirted," Kill said. "We’ve got two great running backs [Rodney Smith and Jeff Jones] that are guys that are redshirted. We’ve got some offensive linemen.
"I could keep going, but our football team a year from now, I think, will even be better. We’ll be better because we’ve got some guys who redshirted."
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