Leslie Frazier said that former Ravens center Matt Birk and Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams, who went against each other in practice for the past three seasons, will battle each other a lot Sunday when Baltimore pays a visit to the Metrodome. Birk, the former Cretin-Derham Hall athlete, played for the Vikings for 11 seasons before joining the Ravens as a free agent this past offseason.

"It should be a good matchup," said Frazier, the Vikings defensive coordinator. "Most centers have trouble blocking Pat, and I'm thinking that won't be any different for Matt.

"They always had some great battles. They'd both be talking at each other and pushing each other, and it was great battles. I'd like to believe that Pat, hopefully, will get the upper hand."

This week, Williams called Birk one of the top five centers in the league. Frazier said he was going to talk to Williams a lot this week in practice about going up against Birk.

"Hey, this is a guy that you faced every day for the last however many years, so just treat it just like it's practice but just raise the intensity a little bit," Frazier said.

Williams joined the Vikings from Buffalo in 2005, but Birk missed that entire season because of a hip injury. Birk and Williams were both picked for the Pro Bowl in 2006 and '07, and Williams went again last season.

"[Birk is] a very good blocker, very smart football player, as you know, and he's doing a good job for Baltimore," Frazier said. "But, he's lining up against Pat Williams, one of the best nose tackles in the National Football League.

"I think [Birk is] having a good season. I think he's moving well, he's getting his hands on people, he's knocking guys off the ball, he seems to have command of the offense."

Speaking about a Vikings defense that ranks 10th against the run and 18th against the pass in the NFL, Frazier says he is pleased for the most part, despite the middling statistics.

"I like the fact that we're getting the turnovers that we're getting: we're sacking the quarterback, we've got a strong defense, and I like a lot of things that we're doing, and we're not giving up points," Frazier said. "Those are all positive. The only thing I'd like for us to do a little better is just continue to improve our tackling and just continue to be assignment-sound, but they're doing a lot of good things."

How tough will Baltimore be Sunday?

"You know, starting this season they were averaging like 32 points a game and then this past week they kind of stubbed their toe a little bit," Frazier said of the Ravens, who lost at home to Cincinnati 17-14 on Sunday. "But, they've got some weapons on offense: [running back] Ray Rice is a very good back; [quarterback] Joe Flacco led them to the championship game a year ago; Derrick Mason is an outstanding receiver. Yes, they do have a very good offense."

Did beat two big rivals

The fact that the Gophers are playing Penn State and Ohio State on successive weeks recalls the 2000 season, the last time the Gophers played those two traditional Big Ten powers back-to-back; the Gophers won both games.

However, after winning those two games, including a 29-17 victory at then-No. 6 Ohio State, the Gophers then lost three in a row, to Indiana, Northwestern and Wisconsin, finishing with a 6-6 record and a loss to North Carolina State in the Micronpc.com Bowl.

While the Gophers were 1-7 against Ohio State during Glen Mason's 10-year coaching career here, they did beat Penn State four times in a row, in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2004. And then they got robbed in the 2006 game thanks to a bad pass interference call that helped Penn State ultimately win 28-27 in overtime.

That was the last time the Gophers faced the Nittany Lions. Now Tim Brewster will face them for the first time. On the basis of some of the Gophers' success against Penn State in the recent past, maybe there is some hope for them Saturday.


For the second week in a row, Vikings coach Brad Childress is going against a friend he worked with during his days under Andy Reid with the Eagles. Last week it was Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, and this week it is Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who called Childress one of his best friends in coaching. According to Harbaugh, they shared a lot of the same ideas over the years and were long-distance running mates. "I don't know how much credit [Childress] does or doesn't get, but I know Brad," Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun. "I've known him for a long time. He's a great coach. What characterizes a Brad Childress-coached team? It's probably the fact that they are always going to be physical, they are always going to be sound. They play with a very mean streak. They're a mean, nasty team. That's the way they play both sides of the ball. And it's obviously shown up in the results."

Brett Favre said he knows how favorable it is to be on the home sideline when playing in the Metrodome. "The noise when the Packers had the ball in the Metrodome was unbelievable," he said. "No doubt the Metrodome is a big home advantage for the Vikings."

Former Gophers running backs Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney both had success early in their NFL careers with Dallas and New England, respectively. However, Maroney now is having a tough time getting going. A first-round pick in 2006, Maroney went on injured reserve last October because of a shoulder injury, and this year he has only 99 yards on 32 carries (3.1 yards per carry), and he is part of a crowded running back situation that also includes Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Even with Taylor injured last week, Maroney still played behind Morris and carried the ball only five times at Denver. On the other hand, Barber remains the Cowboys' No. 1 back when healthy, though he did miss one game because of a thigh injury. Barber has rushed 58 times for 297 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.

Former Wild star Marian Gaborik is off to a great start with the New York Rangers with a league-leading six goals and four assists in his first seven games. ... Former Gophers defenseman Erik Johnson, who missed all of last season for the St. Louis Blues because of a knee injury, registered three assists in St. Louis' four games this season. ... Former Gophers forward Ryan Stoa notched his first career goal of his pro career Tuesday night for Lake Erie of the American Hockey League -- a Colorado Avalanche affiliate -- in a 4-1 loss to San Antonio.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com