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.
The jet sweep seemed like a transformative play for the Gophers last season. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover used it as part of a diverse game plan against Nebraska, with Donovahn Jones rushing four times for 42 yards. Jones finished the year with 16 carries for 73 yards.
This year, the Gophers haven't used the jet near as much. Jones has two rushes for 13 yards. Last week, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover explained.
“Well I think it's with a lot of things," he said. "I look back in the NFL a couple of years ago, the wildcat [formation] was popular,” he said. “The Dolphins were doing it, and eventually people catch up and do their homework. The jet sweep package is good at times, but you can't make your living in that. You’ve got to pick your spots.
"We try and find a couple of spots each game, or a couple of formations, that we can do it out of. But the defenses have caught up with some of that stuff. They see those things happening and can react quicker.
"If you look at the teams that have had success over the last couple of years -- you know, watching Wisconsin play Northwestern, I don't know if they actually handed the ball on a jet action. They maybe did it once with Melvin Gordon as a fake. It's getting harder to find those spots where [defenses] can't read and react.
"It's just like the zone read in the NFL or wildcat. People catch up with you so you got to get ahead of the curve and find that next thing that will keep them off balance."
With David Cobb slicing and dicing through San Jose State’s defense, the Gophers kept giving him the ball Saturday. He finished 207 yards on 34 carries, the highest number of carries for a Gophers running back since Amir Pinnix had 34 in the Insight Bowl loss to Texas Tech in 2006.
“My dad taught me a long time ago, if you’ve got a good horse, ride him,” coach Jerry Kill said Sunday. “[Cobb] was a hot back at that time, seeing things well. And there will be a time when it won’t be that clean, and you’ll put another one in. But why take him out, if he’s doing what he’s doing? We subbed him some, but sometimes David gets better as the game goes on.”
Quarterback Chris Streveler had 18 carries for 161 yards, but the other tailbacks played small roles. Berkley Edwards had three carries for nine yards, and Donnell Kirkwood had two carries for five yards.
Edwards and Kirkwood had both injured their shoulders at TCU but came out of this one feeling better, Kill said. That means Edwards could be a weapon for the Gophers next week at Michigan, and you can bet he'll be motivated against the school that didn’t recruit him after his brother and father starred there.
The Gophers coaches saw some things they liked and some things they didn't like during Saturday's scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium.
"We’re into kind of the grind," Jerry Kill said. "They haven’t had a day off [since Aug. 1], and they’ve had school and all that. So we pushed them pretty hard, and I think some kids were tired. [Sunday], we’ll watch film with them and give them and give them some time off."
As Kill noted, his players are busy from about 7 a.m., through 9-10 p.m., throughout these early stages of camp.
They'll be back at practice Monday. Meantime, here's my Sunday story on linebackers De'Vondre Campbell and Damien Wilson. And here's my scrimmage report.
I caught up today with Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. Here are a few tidbits:
* CB Derrick Wells, who missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, is getting back to full strength. CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun was back to full speed from his knee surgery by the end of spring practice.
“You’re taking a secondary that played well a year ago, and we’ve got the core back,” Claeys said, referring to a unit that lost Brock Vereen but returns Eric Murray, Cedric Thompson, Antonio Johnson and Damarius Travis, among others. “And then you’re adding Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy to it. It’s by far as deep and as good as we’ve been, with kids who’ve proven they can play at the Big Ten level.”
* DE Hank Ekpe missed most of spring practice because of a virus, but he’s fully recovered and has his weight back to 250 pounds.
* LB De’Vondre Campbell weighed in at 238 pounds this morning. The weights were just updated on the roster, but those were from the end of spring practice. Campbell was listed at 226 then, but the 6-5 specimen has really bulked up in recent weeks.
“The funny thing is he doesn’t look as long, like a spider anymore because he’s put on some weight,” Claeys said. “He really looks good.”
* Middle linebacker Damien Wilson was asked to shed weight, and he’s down from 254 to 245.
* And Jack Lynn, the other projected starting linebacker, who came to campus at 220 pounds, is pushing 240.
The Gophers ranked 25th in the country in points allowed last year (22.2) after ranking 45th (24.7) the previous year. Now they have to replace five defensive starters, including Vereen and fellow NFL pick Ra’Shede Hageman.
“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t play better this year again,” Claeys said. “We’re going to have more kids this year than ever who are going to play who’ve already got two years or more of experience. So the depth is going to be there, and we’re getting better athletically.”
WILLMAR -- Jerry Kill said Tuesday that he plans to coach from the sideline this fall after coaching mostly from the press box toward the end of last season.
Kill was among the coaches who spoke at the first stop of the annual Gopher Road Trip, at the Willmar American Legion.
After missing the Oct. 5 game at Michigan because of a seizure, Kill took a two-week leave to treat his epilepsy. He coached the final seven games from the press box but returned to the sideline for the second half of the Texas Bowl loss to Syracuse.
“I’ll be on the sideline [this fall],” Kill said in response to a question from the audience. “That’s who I am, and I think that’s best for our team. However, if we need to adjust something, [the coaches have] all been together a long time.”
Kill continues to drive to work each day, in a sign that he’s been seizure free since last fall.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “I’ve lost a few pounds. I’ve been walking. [Associate Athletics Director Dan] O’Brien and a lot of people are trying to keep me in line. But the No. 1 person is me.”
In other news:
- Kill said he would have loved to see Tony Nelson, the four-time All-American heavyweight wrestler for the Gophers, try out for the football team. But Nelson used a redshirt year in wrestling and competed for four years, using up all his NCAA eligibility.
- Add Alabama to the list of schools that have offered a scholarship to Cretin Derham-Hall defensive tackle Jashon Cornell. The Gophers remain interested but they aren’t too optimistic. He recently told the Detroit News that he was leaning toward Michigan State.
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