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 -- 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.
HOUSTON – The Gophers sold 3,375 tickets for Friday’s Texas Bowl, according to associate athletics director Chris Werle.
That’s well short of each team’s 12,000-seat allotment, but it’s up from 3,163 last year. The Gophers have three busloads of students making the trip from Minneapolis, and two fan charter planes coming down.
It’s unclear how many tickets Syracuse sold, but if today’s Texas Bowl luncheon was any indication, Gophers fans outnumbered the Orange fans by a wide margin.
The Houston Texans include tickets to this bowl game in their season ticket package. Last year, many of those fans turned out to see Texas Tech play the Gophers, but without a nearby college playing, the in-stadium attendance could fall well short of last year's 50,386 mark.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill said he’ll have a meeting Thursday night to determine whether he will return to the sideline for Friday’s game. Kill has coached the past six games from the press box.
“I’ll see how things go,” Kill said. “I’m going to visit with somebody this evening who’s in charge of that, and this is about the first time I’ve listened in all the time since I’ve been dealing with [epilepsy], so I’ll listen.
“But you know, sometimes it’s all overrated. I’m doing the same things if I’m up there as if I’m down on the field. And I’m a pretty emotional guy, so it’s probably best I am in the box sometimes, so we’ll see how it all works out.”
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."
What has Jerry Kill's exact role been with the Gophers these past few weeks? I get that question a lot, so here's a quick attempt to clear it up, based on the information at hand.
Basically, it seems like he's back to work full-time, and the only difference has been that he's been coaching from the press box coaching booth on Saturdays with acting head coach Tracy Claeys on the sideline.
On Oct. 10, Kill announced that he was taking time to treat his epilepsy. He went to a level-four epilepsy treatment center in Grand Rapids, Mich., for a few days and a spent some time at his downtown Minneapolis home, away from the office.
He visited Gophers practice before the team left for the Northwestern game on Oct. 18. That night, his wife, Rebecca, drove him to a hotel about 90 miles outside of Evanston, Ill. Kill surprised the team by showing up at Northwestern, and spent that game mostly watching from the coaching booth.
Kill, 52, has been at every practice since that day. Starting with the Nebraska game on Oct. 26, he was heavily involved in the game-planning and in-game decision making. He's been careful not to steal credit from his assistants, but at the same time, the Gophers are fighting a perception that Kill has faded into the background.
Kill has gradually resumed all of his media obligations. For now, Kill plans to continue coaching from the coaching booth, but much of that stems from the fact the team is riding a four-game winning streak.
The Gophers have a bye this week before a key showdown with Wisconsin on Nov. 23.
In an interview Monday on Big Ten Network, Kill said, "I’m fortunate to have Coach Claeys, who’s been with me a long time, and we’ve been able to make the transition pretty easy. It’s just like anything, he gets better [coaching] on the field each week, and I think I’m getting better in the box each week. So it’s worked out good, and we’re having success doing it, and no use to change right now."
Kill went on to tell former Gophers coach and current BTN analyst Glen Mason that they both know there are days as a head coach when you work 15-16 hours.
"I’m still working 11-12-hour days, and really nothing’s changed a whole lot," Kill said, noting that he's been able to delegate more of his duties to Claeys and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover as of late, as he continues to work on his epilepsy treatment.
In the time I've spent around Kill, he's been in good spirits and feisty as ever. Hope that helps clear up some of the questions.
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."
|Sports (4)||Football (12)|
|College football (573)||Bowl games (18)|
|Gopher coaches (103)||Gopher quarterbacks (77)|
|Gopher recruiting (55)||Gopher road games (23)|
|Gophers disciplinary action (13)||Gophers injuries (88)|
|Gophers on TV (10)||Gophers preseason practice (66)|
|Gophers recruiting (23)||Gophers spring football (76)|
|TCF Bank Stadium (9)||The Big 10 (67)|
|NCAA: football (7)||Gophers game day (112)|
|Gophers postgame (48)||NCAA (17)|
|Gophers awards and honors (25)||Gophers post season (11)|
|Gophers roster moves (18)||Coaching (45)|
|Gophers player capsules (13)|