Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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My friend and colleague Joe Christensen is picking the Gophers to lose to Northwestern in a close game today in Evanston.
I'm here covering the game with Joe, and I don't see it being that close.
Factor in Northwestern's blowout loss at Wisconsin last week and analyze their weaknesses, and Joe's pick makes perfect sense.
Here's why I don't see it being that close:
The Gophers went into the Big Ten season with a great deal of optimism. That has since been crushed. They got physically whipped by a mediocre Iowa team, then got physically whipped by a mediocre Michigan team.
Now their coach is convalescing, and they're on the road against a good team desperate to right itself. Northwestern can throw the ball and figures to play with a great deal of emotion today.
If you're the Gophers, where do you find the positive emotion? Do you really around defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who's filling in for Jerry Kill? Is the Gophers' coaching staff really as capable when the head coach isn't at the stadium?
My pick: Northwestern 41, Gophers 18. I like Mitch Leidner as a quarterback, and I like the fact that the staff didn't play any games before naming him the starter this week, but I don't think he has a whole lot of help.
For the Gophers to keep it close, I think Marcus Jones will have to have a big day in the return game, and tight end Maxx Williams will have to make big plays in the passing game, and Leidner will have to run wild.
I'll be running Sunday Sports Talk on 1500ESPN from 10-noon tomorrow, with Chris Reuvers in the Twin Cities. Korzo has the weekend off.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. Thanks for reading.
Here's the good news for local college football fans: Two of the best games of the day are in Minneapolis and North Dakota.
Here's the bad news for national college football fans: Two of the best games of the day are in Minneapolis and North Dakota.
College football might be the most compelling and atmospheric sport in existence when it's good. Today is evidence that it's not very often good.
It's late September. The weather is beautiful. This is the best time of the year to be a college football fan, when you can sit in the stands on a gorgeous fall day even on our wintry tundra and enjoy a game.
So how can Gophers-San Jose State be one of the better games of the day?
Because college football, despite constantly threatening to reform itself, still packs its schedule with throwaway games.
Colorado State-Alabama? Please.
Ohio State-Florida A&M? C'mon.
Georgia-UNT (and I'm not even sure which UNT that is, University of Northern Toledo? University of Nonsensical Theology?) Stop it.
College football is the rare sport that can be great and chooses often not to be.
So I'm lucky to be in the press box at one of the more interesting games in the country today, even if it shouldn't be.
After two weeks on the road, I"m back in the 1500ESPN studio for Sunday Sports Talk tomorrow, 10-noon. We'll run the Gardenhire Show from 9:30-10 then move on to our show, with Scott Korzenowski and Tom Linnemann. Working on a surprise guest.
Heading to London to cover the Vikings on Sunday.
Thanks for reading.
If I had been guaranteed that the Gophers were going to beat UNLV by 28 points on Thursday night, I would have guessed that Donnell Kirkwood and the other backs would have run wild.
It was quite the opposite. The Gophers beat UNLV, 51-23, in the season opener because of big plays. They scored thusly: Three touchdowns on quarterback runs, one kickoff return, one return of a blocked field goal, one touchdown pass, an interception return and a field goal.
What they lacked in line-of-scrimmage domination, they made up for with versatility.
No Gopher rusher other than quarterback Philip Nelson amnaged more than David Cobb's 69 yards, and Kirkwood rushed for just 30 before leaving with an ankle injury.
No Gopher receiver managed more than K.J. Maye's three catches and 30 yards.
The Gophers won because of big and often wild plays. Nelson rushed for 83 yards and two scores and threw for 99 yards and another, but this game wasn't won in the trenches.
UNLV seemed to baffle the Gophers early with the shortest passing game I think I've ever seen. UNLV could have been a dangerous opponent if any of their receivers were capable of getting downfield separation or breaking tackles.
Here's what stood out to me:
-Marcus Jones is a dyanamic player and a great interview. Please read my piece on him in the Friday Star Tribune.
-Freshman tight end Maxx Williams looks like a player. He has size, good hands and a lot of aggression. He made a beautiful catch of Nelson's touchdown pass near the sideline of the end zone, and when he took a short kickoff late in the game he ran over two defenders.
-The heat affected the Gophers. Jones and other players mentioned having cramps. The Gophers' return touchdowns forced the defense to stay on the field, and fatigue became a factor.
-Cole Banham, who got two carries late in the game, is the brother of Gophers basketball star Rachel Banham.
-Nelson produced three touchdowns. He also threw one interception and almost had another picked off and returned for a touchdown. It will be interesting to see how he handles stouter defenses and better pass rushes. He may need Williams to develop quickly to give him a Kyle Rudolph-like outlet.
-Jerry Kill seemed happy with the performance, and spoke highly about a lot of his young players.
-Here's my Nitpick of the Night:
Late in the first half, the Gophers had a first down at the UNLV 10 as the clock ticked under 40 seconds. The Gophers had one timeout remaining. They lined up, as UNLV's defense looked out of whack, and...spiked the ball?
This is one of my many pet peeves about football coaching and thinking. If you have time to line up, and you have the defense at a disadvantage, and there is plenty of time on the clock, downs are more valuable than a few seconds. Call a play and run it.
It didn't hurt the Gophers. They scored on a third-down pass from Nelson to Williams. But if Williams had come down out of bounds, it would have cost them at least four points.
-I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon tomorrow with Judd&Dubay. Sunday, on that station, we'll have the Gardenhire Show at 9:30, then we'll run Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon with me and Scott Korzenowski, with special guest Tom Linnemann for our NFL picks. I think Korzo The Lawyer and me are going to end up agreeing on the winner of the NFL's settlement with former players.
Catching up on the local sports scene:
-Vikings. I'm at the Dome, where I'm picking a typical grind-it-out victory for the Vikings. Tampa Bay has scary weapons in Doug Martin and Victor Jackson, but the Vikings have a number of advantages in this game.
Their defense has excelled at taking away the best skill-position player or players on the other team, with Larry Fitzgerald being the most recent example. The Vikings have been able to run the ball on pretty much everyone, and are smart enough not to veer away from their strengths, even though Tampa Bay is much better against the run than the pass.
Most of all, though, the Vikings appear to be the superior team at this juncture, and they're getting to play at home, presumably in front of a loud crowd, against a team that doesn't play often on turf. And the Bucs had to play on Sunday and spend Wednesday traveling. NFL players just don't bounce back that easily and quickly, not most of them.
My sure-to-be-wrong prediction: Vikings 23, Bucs 16.
-Twins: In September, I heard that the Twins would make major changes to their coaching staff. The only surprise, among the recently-announced changes, is that Terry Steinbach will be the bench coach. I hadn't heard Terry's name previously, and he wound up taking the position I had heard was reserved for Triple-A manager Gene Glynn.
This lineup makes sense. Glynn is very valuable where he right now, and Steinbach should be a good foil for Ron Gardenhire. Gardenhire is hyperactive on the bench. He needs someone to slow him down and offer all of his options. Gardenhire's first instinct is to act. Steinbach's job will be to make sure Gardenhire has thought every move through thoroughly as possible.
Whatever the changes to the coaching staff, the success of the franchise will depend on finding pitching. With word that Scott Boras client Kyle Lohse may be looking for a $75-million contract, it's more apparent than ever to me that Terry Ryan is going to have to try to get lucky with trades or low-level free-agent signings that will not impress anyone initially.
-Wild: Remember when we had an NHL team in our town? Me, neither.
-Gopher football: I want to like Jerry Kill. I really do. He's making it difficult, though. I've already ripped the removal of North Carolina from future schedules. I'm also disturbed by the removal of redshirts from several key young players.
The last time I went to one of Kill's press conferences, he emphasized the importance of patience. Removing the redshirt from your freshman quarterback at midseason and telling him on Friday that he would be starting on Saturday is not patient. It's an act of desperation.
Jerry: Recruits can smell desperation.
-Gopher basketball: As tough as I've been on Tubby Smith on many fronts, I won't bash him because his son got a DUI. While I believe driving while intoxicated is absolutely wrong and reckless, I also know a million people who have done it at some point in their lives. Saul Smith made a terrible mistake, but let's not play the ``leader-of-young-men card.'' He's an assistant coach. Let's not pretend that an assistant coach getting a DUI is going to alter the lives of a dozen college basketball players.
-Here are a few notes on tonight's game, courtesy of Vikings media relations:
-Matt Blair will enter the Vikings' ring of honor tonight.
-Percy Harvin ranks second in the NFL in receptions, with 53. His 271 receptions rank second in franchise history for a player in his first four seasons. He's caught a pass in every NFL game in which he's played.
-Kicker Blair Walsh leads the league with 27 touchbacks. He's tied for third in the NFL with 16 field goals.
-The Vikings' 72 sacks and 25 forced fumbles since the start of the 2011 season are the most in the NFL.
-Jared Allen has a sack in five straight games.
-Kyle Rudolph is tied for the lead league among tight ends with 5 touchdown catches.
-Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib. I'll be on WJON at 7:15 a.m and 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. tomorrow to talk about the game.
Rick Adelman has been to the Timberwolves what Tubby Smith should have been for the University of Minnesota. He makes a difference in such obvious ways.
Last night, the Gophers held Wisconsin to 16 first-half points and still found a way to lose, because finding a way to lose is what Tubby's teams have done the last two years.
Last night, the Timberwolves beat a good team on the road, whipping the Clippers in LA with a powerhouse fourth-quarter performance, in part because Adelman has a feel for when to play his players, and because he has tremendously upgraded the Wolves' offensive intelligence and defensive tenaciousness.
Darko is not a good player, yet Adelman has used him to good effect twice against the Clippers, particularly in keeping Blake Griffin from the basket. I know Adelman won't win the coach of the year award, but I'd consider him.
In light of last night's developments, here's my latest high-irrelevant, transparently self-serving Local Power Rankings:
I left the No. 1 slot vacant in my last rankings because I couldn't reward the Wolves when they were playing poorly, and no other local teams had earned this spot. The Wolves, having won five of six, easily reclaim this spot. This is a likeable and surging team.
2. Gopher hockey
Four straight victories: That's impressive, but we all know we're going to judge this team by the way it performs in the postseason.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The last two seasons were abysmal, but I'm seeing signs of hope. The farther I get from last season the more willing I am to give Christian Ponder the benefit of the doubt as a rookie quarterback playing with a limited supporting cast. Add Matt Kalil, then find a starting cornerback and a speed receiver either in free agency or the draft, and this team could quickly make strides, especially if Ponder learns from last season.
4. Minnesota Twins
I don't think this is a good team, but there's no way it can suffer as many injuries as it did last season, and the infield defense is guaranteed to be better.
5. Minnesota Wild
Other than the Nick Leddy trade, I like all of Chuck Fletcher's moves. He's aggressive and forward-thinking and I do believe he's building a winner. I just think the young scorers he's drafted and acquired are going to have to make it to the X before the record will support that assertion.
6. Gopher football
Nothing new here, although I continue to hear from Minnesotans about how much they like Jerry Kill. If that vibe works on recruits, we may have something here.
7. Gopher basketball
And your new last-place team in the LPR: I give you the Minnesota Golden Basketball Gophers.
Tubby Smith loses games he should have won, then blames the administration, or his players, or nightlife in Minneapolis. He did take the blame for one mistake: Moving Blake Hoffarber to the point last year. Otherwise, he's a finger-pointer of the first degree.
He must go. But does the new president and his 98-person advisory committee think he should go?
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 from Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers with Reusse and Mackey. I'll also be on from the stadium for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500espn on Sunday morning.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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