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.

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Posts about Gophers game day

Gophers defeat Penn State 24-10 for fourth straight Big Ten win

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 9, 2013 - 2:11 PM

Four weeks, four Big Ten wins. It’s been a while since the Gophers could say that -- 40 years, in fact.

Minnesota continued its resurgent ride Saturday, defeating Penn State 24-10 at TCF Bank Stadium to claim the Governor’s Victory Bell traveling trophy for the first time since 2004.

Philip Nelson rushed for one touchdown and passed for another, and David Cobb rushed 27 times for 139 yards, as the Gophers rode a big performance from the defense to the win.

The Gophers built the 24-10 lead by halftime and held tough through a scoreless second half. The win was pretty much sealed when Penn State's true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg fumbled at Minnesota's 1-yard line with 6:40 remaining.

The Gophers (8-2, 4-2 in the Big Ten) controlled play against Penn State (5-4, 2-3), much as they did against Northwestern, Nebraska and Indiana. It’s the first time Minnesota has had a four-game Big Ten winning streak in the same season since 1973.

And it’s the first time the Gophers have won eight games in a season since they went 10-3 under Glen Mason in 2003. The Gophers have a bye next week before facing Wisconsin at home on Nov. 23.

Gophers punter Peter Mortell pinned Penn State at the 1-yard line and the 2-yard line on back-to-back punts in the second half. The second one was a booming, 62-yarder.

While the second half was a defensive struggle, the Gophers had some big offensive moments in the first half.

First, they caught a break. Penn State fumbled on its first snap on a bad exchange from Hackenberg to running back Bill Belton. Cornerback Eric Murray pounded on the ball at Penn State’s 29-yard line, and the Gophers quickly turned that into a 45-yard field goal by Chris Hawthorne.

The Gophers made it 10-0 late in the first quarter with a 15-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that took 8:10 off the clock. The key play was a 24-yard pass from Philip Nelson to Maxx Williams on fourth-and-2 from Penn State’s 28-yard line.

Penn State seemed to be on its heels, but the Nittany Lions came right back with a quick, 75-yard touchdown drive. Zach Zwinak took over for Belton at running back and the Gophers didn’t have an answer. He had a 38-yard gain and scored on a six-yard run.

The Gophers came right back with another touchdown drive, stretching the lead to 17-7. Once again, Minnesota converted a key fourth down, when Nelson hit Donovahn Jones for an 11-yard gain on fourth-and 9 from Penn State’s 30-yard line. Nelson eventually scored on a six-yard run.

Penn State had another long drive toward the end of the half, but the Gophers forced the Nittany Lions to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Sam Ficken.

Nelson hit a wide open Williams in the corner for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds remaining in the first half.

Halftime: Gophers lead Penn State 24-10

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 9, 2013 - 12:28 PM

Penn State fumbled on its first snap, and the Gophers turned two key fourth-down conversions into touchdowns, helping Minnesota take a 24-10 lead into halftime today at TCF Bank Stadium.

Penn State’s fumble came on a bad exchange from quarterback Christian Hackenberg to running back Bill Belton.

Cornerback Eric Murray pounded on the ball at Penn State’s 29-yard line, and the Gophers quickly turned that into a 45-yard field goal by Chris Hawthorne.

The Gophers made it 10-0 late in the first quarter with a 15-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that took 8:10 off the clock. The key play was a 24-yard pass from Philip Nelson to Maxx Williams on fourth-and-2 from Penn State’s 28-yard line.

Penn State seemed to be on its heels, but the Nittany Lions came right back with a quick, 75-yard touchdown drive. Zach Zwinak took over for Belton at running back and the Gophers didn’t have an answer. He had a 38-yard gain and scored on a six-yard run.

The Gophers came right back with another touchdown drive, stretching the lead to 17-7. Once again, Minnesota converted a key fourth down, when Nelson hit Donovahn Jones for an 11-yard gain on fourth-and 9 from Penn State’s 30-yard line.

Entering the game, Penn State opponents were 0-for-6 converting fourth-down chances, and the Gophers were 8-for-11. Minnesota's success continued. Nelson capped that drive with a six-yard touchdown scramble.

Penn State had another long drive toward the end of the half, but the Gophers forced the Nittany Lions to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Sam Ficken.

Nelson hit a wide open Williams in the corner for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds remaining in the first half.

Pregame: A new era for Gophers and Penn State; Kaler voices appreciation for Kill

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 9, 2013 - 10:39 AM

The Gophers are getting ready for another 11 a.m., kickoff here at TCF Bank Stadium, with Penn State in town to battle for the Governor’s Victory Bell.

These teams haven’t played since 2010 and they won’t meet again until 2016.

Penn State (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) is 4-0 in its past four games against the Gophers, with Minnesota’s last win in the series coming in 2004.

Of course, it’s a new era for both teams. The Gophers (7-2, 3-2) are in their third season under Coach Jerry Kill, looking to win a fourth straight Big Ten game for the first time since 1973, and Penn State is in Year 2 under Bill O’Brien.

The Nittany Lions are ineligible for a bowl game again and dealing with scholarship reductions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But O’Brien helped Penn State turn the page with an 8-4 finish last season and solid recruiting, especially getting quarterback Christian Hackenberg to stick with his commitment last year.

Now, Hackenberg and junior receiver Allen Robinson lead this offense, and the Nittany Lions are looking for win No. 6.

It’s cloudy and 43 degrees here, and the weather isn’t expected to change much through the game.

The Gophers are wearing their maroon jerseys, white pants and the ‘M’ on their helmets is red white and blue in a Veterans Day tribute.

For quicker updates, follow along on Twitter: @JoeCStrib

Update: Philip Nelson is working with the first-team offense in warmups, and Mitch Leidner with the second team. No surprise there, based on the past three weeks.

University President Eric Kaler met with the media before the game. His support for Kill has been unequivocal through Kill's battle with seizures, and now Kaler has been able to watch the football team reel off a three-game winning streak.

"It really is icing on the cake that the staff has been able to perform at the level they are at, and that our young men have stepped up to be so good on the field," Kaler said. "It’s really gratifying. We’re fortunate that we’re winning under these conditions, but even if we weren’t, I know we’ve made the right decision about how to let Jerry get back on his feet. And I’m glad he’s making progress, and I’m very glad the team’s making progress, and I’m glad there’s this excitement in the community about Gophers football again."

Kaler said it wasn't a hard decision leaving things up to Kill in terms of how best to handle his leave, etc.

"I don’t think we really had any other choice," Kaler said. "I had a lot of people in my ear saying, 'Well, we should fire him. He can’t do his job, etc.' That’s nonsense. We’re going to be compassionate, we’re going to be smart about how to let Jerry get back to full strength. And we’re really blessed to have a coaching staff. When we hired Jerry, we didn’t just hire Jerry Kill and Rebecca [Kill], who’s fabulous. We hired a team of coaches, and that team is absolutely delivering for us."

Gophers win a 42-39 thriller at Indiana

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 2, 2013 - 6:30 PM

BLOOMINGTON, IND. – The Gophers football team struck again Saturday.

Lined up as an underdog against a Big Ten opponent for the third consecutive week, the Gophers made it three straight wins, defeating Indiana in a 42-39 thriller at Memorial Stadium.

Philip Nelson passed for 298 yards and four touchdowns, and David Cobb rushed for 188 yards, but a game that seemed headed for a Minnesota rout turned extremely tense at the end.

The Gophers had 35-13 lead with 6:24 remaining in the third quarter, and then the Hoosiers scored the next 26 points to go in front 39-35.

Nelson hit Maxx Williams with a 50-yard touchdown pass, putting the Gophers back in front. But the game clocked showed 2 minutes and 57 seconds remaining -- an eternity for the Hoosiers, who came in averaging 42.4 points per game, eighth-best in the country.

Indiana had the ball at Minnesota’s 8-yard line, when the Gophers called timeout with 25 seconds remaining. It didn’t look good at all, but then Minnesota caught a major break.

Hoosiers quarterback Nate Sudfeld misfired on a screen pass to Tevin Coleman, a play ruled a lateral, and linebacker Aaron Hill pounced on the fumble.

The Gophers could hardly believe their luck, as the offense went on the field to run out the clock.

Minnesota (7-2, 3-2 in the Big Ten) surpassed last year’s win total heading into what looks like another winnable game next week, when Penn State visits TCF Bank Stadium.

Indiana (3-5, 1-3) entered the game as nine-point favorites, but the Gophers were used to it, after being 12 1/2-point underdogs at Northwestern and 10-point underdogs against Nebraska, and still coming out on top.

Halftime: Gophers lead Hoosiers 28-13; Nelson with three TD passes

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: November 2, 2013 - 4:24 PM

BLOOMINGTON, IND. -- Philip Nelson passed for three touchdowns, including two to Derrick Engel, as the Gophers jumped to a 28-13 halftime lead today at Indiana.

Nelson made his first start since the Iowa game on Sept. 28. Mitch Leidner replaced him on the first drive of the second quarter and led a touchdown drive.

But when Leidner fumbled twice on Minnesota’s next series, both recovered by the Gophers, Nelson came back in. On fourth-and-2 from Indiana’s 10-yard line, the Gophers went for it, and Nelson hit tight end Drew Goodger for a touchdown pass, stretching Minnesota’s lead to 21-13.

The Gophers fumbled three times on that drive, yet still scored. Nelson found Engel for a 33-yard touchdown on the next drive.

The Gophers forced Indiana to punt on its final three possessions of the half.

The only negative in the first half for Minnesota was losing starting center Jon Christenson to an apparent left leg injury. Christenson was carted off the field and replaced by Tommy Olson.

Minnesota’s first play from scrimmage was a flea-flicker, as Nelson handed to David Cobb, who pitched it back to Nelson for a 40-yard completion to Engel. A few plays later, Nelson hit Engel on third-and-9 for a 10-yard touchdown pass.

It was the first time the Gophers had scored points on their first possession of a game this year, and the first time they’d done it in a Big Ten game since Nov. 19, 2011 at Northwestern.

Indiana came right back down the field, and the Gophers it to a field goal. The teams traded punts, and then Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood.

It was the Gophers first turnover in three games, and the Hoosiers quickly made it hurt. Tre Roberson hit Kofi Hughes with an 18-yard touchdown pass.

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