Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Minnesota Vikings lost at Indianapolis 23-20 Sunday as rookie quarterback Andrew Luck drove the Colts into field goal range in the closing seconds. The Vikings slipped to 1-1. What are your thoughts on the game?
-Dorr: I’ve said since Leslie Frazier became coach that there is little discipline on that team and I think the 11 penalties for 105 yards Sunday – some of them at key times – bear that out. And there is no deep threat for quarterback Christian Ponder to throw the ball to down the field. It also appears that the defensive secondary, thought to be improved, isn’t. Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck was being praised after the game but the coverage by the Minnesota defensive backs wasn’t very good. In fact, Ponder had a better quarterback rating for the game than did Luck. With San Francisco up next and then the Vikings feeding Christian to the Lions the following week, it could be a rough start for the Vikings.
-Marxhausen: In all honesty the Vikings are trimming down the areas they need to improve on. They have done a much better job of controlling the ball on offense and not getting easily rattled by pressure. The Colts did a good job of limiting Adrian Peterson from breaking any rushes into the secondary. The Vikings did have a tough time getting into the end zone until it was almost too late. Ponder looked poised in the fourth quarter, getting two touchdowns in the last half of the quarter. A dismal performance was allowing Andrew Luck to march down the field in 30 seconds and put the Colts in field goal range. It was a complete breakdown in defense in such a short amount of time. The Vikings are getting better but have a long way to go.
-Larson: How much time does an opposing team need to score and beat the Vikings at the end of a close game? The answer is, whatever amount of time is left on the clock. It doesn’t seem to matter – a minute, 30 seconds, it doesn’t matter. As long as there is time left, the Vikings will fade. It’s been a sad trait for many seasons. The Indianapolis game was one I had in the win column for the Vikings in my prediction of four victories in 2012.
•Question: The University of Minnesota football team boosted its record to 3-0 by topping Western Michigan 28-23 Saturday at home. Gophers starting quarterback MarQueis Gray left the game with an ankle sprain but back-up quarterback Max Shortell played well, throwing three touchdown passes. Gray could miss a few games or he might be back this week. What’s your take on the unbeaten Gophers as they prepare for their final non-conference game against Syracuse?
-Dorr: I liked Shortell last year when he came into some of the early games and he certainly is a better passer than Gray. It remains to be seen what he will do when a team can prepare for him like Syracuse will this week. Jerry Kill and the Gophers should get credit for their three wins, even if the opposition hasn’t been the greatest. I don’t think the team would have won all those games a couple years ago, or even last year. It would be a shame if former Mankato quarterback Phillip Nelson becomes the back-up for this week and then would lose his redshirt status if he has to go in for Shortell. Playing Syracuse should give a little better read on the Gophers. Syracuse lost 42-21 to Northwestern and then lost 42-29 to No. 2 USC (upset by Stanford Saturday) before beating Stony Brook (a FCS team) 28-17 to end a seven-game losing streak. It appears the Orange may have played to the level of the opposition in the first three games. And it appears Minnesota has a chance to win.
-Marxhausen: There are still a lot of question marks on how Minnesota will perform during Big Ten play. After Syracuse it will have four games played before Big Ten play so the Gophers should be physically ready to compete against tougher competition. Even if Gray is ready this week, he shouldn’t play an entire game. Gray is the Gophers’ entire offense in both passing and rushing. Shortell looked promising against Western Michigan, so giving him a chance to play an entire game might pay off in both the short term and the long term. Giving Gray a break and Shortell a start still gives the Gophers a fighting chance at winning. After Syracuse, the Gophers travel to Kinnick Stadium to face the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa is a team the Gophers can beat.
-Larson: A 3-0 start to the season is impressive, no matter the quality of the competition. If the Gophers prevail against an average Syracuse team, that would leave them needing two Big Ten victories to become “bowl eligible.” So far, coach Kill’s team has improved from 2012. Kill should hold Gray out of Saturday’s game and go with the hot Shortell.
•Question: The Minnesota Twins started their recent home stand by winning three of four games against Cleveland before losing two of three against Kansas City and all three games against Chicago to go 4-6. The team is 60-87 after Sunday and it appears it will be looking at several young players as the season winds down. What did you note during the recent home stand?
-Dorr: I attended a couple of the games on that home stand but sold tickets for a couple of other games (at a rate greatly reduced from the past two years) because of other commitments. I haven’t seen the team quit playing hard but the Twins just aren’t very good. The performance of some of the players has dropped off markedly. Scott Diamond, thought to be a lock for next year’s pitching rotation after four good months, is 1-3 in his last nine starts with a 7.09 ERA. And Ben Revere is hitting .257 in 41 games in August and September, 42 of his 44 hits being singles. I think it’s a given that Revere and Denard Span can’t both start in the outfield if the Twins are to be a better team. And, obviously, the starting pitching needs a lot of help. And while Pedro Florimon has demonstrated some flashy plays at shortstop, he’s made an error every 21 chances. Brian Dozier, the shortstop sent to the minors by Ron Gardenhire, made one every 28 chances and certainly is a better hitter than Florimon.
-Marxhausen: Most evident from this home stand it is that the Twins need a lot of pitching help and hopefully it will happen during this offseason. The Twins are relying on their bats to win games and timely hitting is a the strong suite for the Twins. It is nice to see the Twins string wins together like they did against Cleveland and still show they are playing hard, but clearly they don’t have the team that can finish an entire season on a positive swing. Sure, there is an advantage for losing a bunch of games so you can receive a higher draft pick, but if losing is your forte, professional organizations will lose touch with their fan base. Right now the Twins need to focus on what they can do to get the 2013 season off to a good start. The question is, who can make the Twins a contender for postseason play? Now is the time for the team to start finding answers.
-Larson: One thing of note is attendance, which has fallen off around 7,000 per game in September despite good weather. While the team has been competitive in a few games, it simply doesn’t have the pitching and consistent hitting to maintain a winning streak of more than a few games. And, does the current lineup and roster predict better results for 2013? Who could say yes to that question?
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