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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Leidner has a sprained MCL in his left knee, sources confirm

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers injuries Updated: September 7, 2014 - 4:38 PM

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, leaving his status for this week's game at TCU uncertain, sources familiar with the injury confirmed Sunday.

Leidner got hit as he released a pass in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 35-24 victory over Middle Tennessee State. His MRI showed no damage to his anterior cruciate ligament, meaning this doesn't appear to be a season-ending injury.

But depending upon the severity, an MCL sprain could sideline him for multiple weeks.

"Anytime you have a knee [injury], you’re concerned," coach Jerry Kill said Sunday. "We haven’t had a lot of good luck [with recent knee injuries]. I don’t know."

Redshirt freshman Chris Streveler finished Saturday's game at quarterback for the Gophers and would be in line to start at TCU, if Leidner can't go. Kill said true freshman walk-on Jacques Perra has climbed to No. 3 on the quarterback depth chart, behind Leidner and Streveler.

I'll have more on the Gophers quarterback situation in tonight's first editions.

First-half analysis: Gophers lead Middle Tennessee State 28-0

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers game day Updated: September 6, 2014 - 4:12 PM

The Gophers lead Middle Tennessee State 28-0 at the half. A few takeaways:

* David Cobb has 14 carries for 111 yards (7.9 average) and a touchdown. The Gophers kept handing it to him early to set the tone, and the offensive line responded. Donnell Kirkwood burst through a huge hole for a 17-yard run, setting up his 1-yard touchdown run.

* Jalen Myrick is really fast. The sophomore cornerback had an interception negated by penalty in last week's opener. Today, he grabbed a pass from Austin Grammer and raced 31 yards for a pick six. Myrick had one of the nation's fastest 100-meter dash times as a junior at Savannah (Ga.) Christian Prep High School.

* The Gophers defense has been terrific. Beyond pitching a shutout so far, they have two interceptions, including Myrick's pick six and Damien Wilson's, which came when Theiren Cockran hit the arm of quarterback Austin Grammer. They've also forced Middle Tennessee to turn the ball over on downs twice.

* Mitch Leidner has has completed 5 of 9 passes for 67 yards. He threw a perfect 27-yard touchdown pass to Maxx Williams on the first play after Wilson's interception, but Leidner was picked off in the end zone with 21 seconds left in the half.

Pregame: Links to get you ready for Gophers/Middle Tennessee

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers game day Updated: September 6, 2014 - 12:29 PM

It's a picture perfect day here at TCF Bank Stadium, with the Gophers getting ready for a 2:30 kickoff against Middle Tennessee State.

In case you missed it, I focused on the secondary for today's feature story. I knew DB coach Jay Sawvel had found some hidden gems but hadn't realized all four starters for the Gophers had offers from exactly one Power 5 conference school -- Minnesota. It also surprised me to realize that all four defensive backs Sawvel and Jerry Kill left behind at Northern Illinois have gone on to play in the NFL.

Here's Patrick Reusse's column: Kill looking in charge and on top of his game.

Here's my game preview and prediction. I think Middle Tennessee has a talented roster, but the opening week 61-7 victory over Savannah State shouldn't scare anyone with the Gophers. Savannah State is an FCS team that is 4-42 since 2010.

Here are 5 keys to an MTSU win, from Adam Sparks of the Daily News Journal.

I'll post other pregame notes here, as they come.

Chip Scoggins is here in the press box. Follow us on Twitter: @ChipScoggins @JoeCStrib

On radio, Kill says Keith out for Saturday's game; also vents about Panthers' onside kick

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gophers injuries Updated: September 4, 2014 - 2:05 PM

Here’s some quick notes from Jerry Kill’s weekly radio show with Mike Grimm and Mark Rosen today on 100.3-FM:

* Defensive end Alex Keith will miss Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee State, but Kill said the team hopes to have Keith back for the Sept. 13 game against TCU. Kill didn’t specify what the injury is, but Keith appeared to hurt his left knee after recovering two fumbles against Eastern Illinois. Kill added that the team will be careful with Keith, since the most important thing is having players healthy for the Big Ten slate.

* Defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms will be available to play Saturday, if needed. Timms appeared to injure an ankle in the season opener.

* Kill reiterated that wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, offensive tackle Ben Lauer and defensive end Michael Amaefula all are ready to return Saturday.

* Kill said linebacker Cody Poock, who is recovering from a torn ACL, has already taken part in contact drills in practice. Kill was quick to say that doesn't mean Poock is close to returning soon. But with Scott Ekpe facing the same surgery, Kill was noting how quickly players can come back from the injury.

* Kill said playing Middle Tennessee State is very similar to playing Syracuse in last year’s Texas Bowl. Syracuse was 6-6, and the Gophers were favored, but the Orange wound up winning 21-17. “We need to understand how good they are,” Kill said. “And I think our football team does. Our schedule, you need to go to work every day, and our kids understand that.”

* Asked about Eastern Illinois’ onside kick when trailing 42-14 with 28 seconds remaining last week, Kill said, “I think there’s a way to handle that and not, and I wasn’t very happy. You could tell after the game, I wasn’t very happy.” Kill noted how dangerous onside kicks can be injury-wise, and that game had been decided. Eastern Illinois scored another touchdown on the game’s final play to make it 42-20.

Jones begins class; Gophers hope he can practice next spring; Ekpe likely out for season

Posted by: Joe Christensen under Gopher recruiting, Gophers injuries Updated: September 2, 2014 - 3:44 PM

Gophers coach Jerry Kill said running back Jeff Jones was excited for his first day of class today at the university and that the team hopes Jones is eligible to begin practicing for spring semester.

Kill didn't give specifics, but this likely means that Jones has been granted partial approval of an initial eligibility waiver by the NCAA. Jones can't take part in team activities, including practices, this fall, but would be eligible for spring semester if he posts a 2.5 GPA this fall.

Jones was right on the bubble to qualify for Division I coming out of Minneapolis Washburn high school. After applying for the initial eligibility waiver, Jones was granted his athletic scholarship, and now he has a chance to prove himself in the classroom.

"I think he's happy and excited," Kill said. "First day of school. You know, I saw him this morning. Hopefully he'll be practicing in the spring. There's certain things that I won't mention, how the NCAA works and all that. But cautiously optimistic to see how that works out."

Jones could be a big part of the team next fall, with running backs David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood graduating.

Ekpe likely out for season

Kill said it looks pretty certain that defensive tackle Scott Ekpe is out for the season with a knee injury. Ekpe is a junior and would be able to get a medical redshirt year, giving him two more years of eligibility.

"That's a major blow," Kill said.

Ekpe made his first career start in the season opener against Eastern Illinois, but injured the knee during the first quarter.

Ekpe played in all 13 games the past two seasons, recording 33 tackles, including five tackles for a loss. To fill his place, the Gophers likely will tab true freshman Steven Richardson to start next to senior defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli.

Kill also said the Gophers have moved Harold Legania back to defensive tackle. He had moved to the offensive line late in training camp.

Other injury notes

Kill said wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky will be ready to play Saturday against Middle Tennessee State. Wolitarsky missed last week's game with an injury near his shoulder.

Kill didn't give specifics on the injuries and said he'd need to see how the week goes along for defensive end Alex Keith and defensive tackle Yoshoub Timms.

"They're not lost for the season, and we'll see how this week progresses with them," Kill said.

Keith made his first career start against Eastern Illinois and delivered a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries before injuring his left leg. Keith was filling in for starting defensive end Michael Amaefula, who missed the opener with a knee injury but is expected to return for Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee.

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