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 Gophers were holding their breath after tight end Maxx Williams suffered a knee injury in the final minute of Friday's loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl.
Williams limped to the bus after the game, and the team feared the worst. But Coach Jerry Kill said Sunday on his weekly WCCO (AM-830) appearance that Williams' injury won't require surgery.
"We certainly didn't want to lose that kid during [spring practice]," Kill told Sid Hartman and Dave Mona. "We found out it's not great but not as bad as it was. It won't require surgery. So that started my new year right. We're excited that it wasn't as bad as we thought originally."
Little clarity on quarterback competition
The Texas Bowl appeared to throw the quarterback competition wide open for next season between Philip Nelson, Mitch Leidner and, perhaps, Chris Streveler, who redshirted this season. Kill tiptoed around that question on Sunday, however.
"It’s one of those things that I’m not really going to say a whole lot about," Kill said. "All that will work out. … I think time will take care of all that, and we’ve got a lot of things that we need to work on. We went through those things [at Northern Illinois] with Chandler [Harnish] and Jordan [Lynch]. And Chandler, a kid that played for me at Northern had been through some times, and we had to do different things his first year as a sophomore and so forth ... so it all works out."
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.
Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover was asked if he'll be back next season or if he might go looking for a head coaching job.
"No, I’m back, I’m having too much fun," he said. "I’ve had more fun this year than I have probably in my entire career, coaching the group of guys that we have, working with the offensive staff, so unless you know something I don’t -- that they’re going to kick me out -- I’d like to be back."
Asked if he'd like to become a head coach someday, Limegrover said, "I’d like to, yeah. But I think the biggest thing is that we’ve got a lot of work to do here, and I don’t like leaving work unfinished. So until I can get that squared away, I think I’m right where I need to be."
KILL NOT SURE WHERE HE'LL COACH
Kill was asked if he plans to continue coaching in the press box or return to the sideline for the bowl game, and he said he doesn't know.
"I’m not avoiding your question." Kill said. "I really can’t comment on any of that right now because I don’t know. I just have to see. And we’ll do what’s best for the program, like we always have, and everybody – I’m doing fine, but it’s one of those things. I talked to Coach [Tracy Claeys] a couple days ago, and we talked a little bit, and we’ll worry about that as we get closer."
NELSON BACK TO FULL STRENGTH
Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and head coach Jerry Kill were among those who met with the media after Wednesday's practice.
Nelson said it took him "about a week" to recover physically after getting shaken up in the regular season finale against Michigan State. But he's been able to practice at full speed in preparation for the Texas Bowl against Syracuse on Dec. 27 and sees similarities to how things went leading up to last year's bowl game.
"I think we’re doing a good job right now of just getting our feet underneath us again, and really putting in some new things and keep working hard on the things we already do well," Nelson said. "So we’ve got a good little balance going right now, and it’s feeling a lot like last year. So hopefully it plays out like last year, with how we played."
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."
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