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 defeated the Detroit Lions 34-24 Sunday at Mall of America Field. Running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Christian Ponder were among several Vikings who had big games. What did you think of the Vikings’ performance?
-Dorr: I figured they were due for a better game and that was the case Sunday. Things got off on the right foot when the Lions had an early penalty that put them in a third-and-long situation and the Vikings got the ball right away and then scored. Detroit failed on third down after third down after that and some of the credit for that goes to the Minnesota defense. Ponder had a better game, without Percy Harvin, and the selection of plays seemed to be different. Radio analyst Pete Bercich, a big critic of Ponder the past few weeks, didn’t think Ponder was that good. The Vikings managed 403 yards but Bercich still didn’t think Ponder completing 75 percent of his passes and throwing for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns was enough. Peterson is making a case for being the league MVP, quarterback or not. The Vikings made the plays they had to, both on offense and defense, and that was the difference in the game. Some local media guys were bashing the Lions Sunday night but the Lions had beaten the Seahawks, a team Minnesota couldn’t beat, barely lost to the 7-2 Bears, and were leading the NFL in passing yardage. Despite coming off a win, I think the bye week comes at a good time. Maybe the Vikings can scratch out two or three wins in their final six games.
-Marxhausen: The Vikings came out, took control of the game and finished strong under the type of pressure that recent Vikings teams would often crumble under. In high-pressure situations it is easy to make a simple mistake that could cause a turnover, but the Vikings remained patient, calm and didn’t force the ball into coverage. Ponder looked strong in the division game against the Lions, completing the game without an interception while pushing away critics for one more week. It was more difficult for him to connect to his receivers without his favorite target, Percy Harvin, but Ponder was able to spread the ball around to nine different receivers. Leading up to the fourth quarter it looked like Adrian Peterson was going to have to fight for every single yard from scrimmage before he was able to push the ball into the secondary and had a monumental 61-yard dash that put the Lions out of reach. The defense was phenomenal against the run, but had trouble defending Calvin Johnson as Matthew Stafford hit him 12 times for 207 yards and a touchdown. All in all it was tough division match-up that the Vikings needed to win and looked strong doing so. They get a week off before they play the Chicago Bears, so the rest should help as Minnesota prepares for the tough Chicago defense.
-Larson: With their best receiver, Percy Harvin, out, the Vikings came up with perhaps their best-balanced attack of the season. Jarius Wright filled in well for Harvin. Ponder rediscovered tight end Kyle Rudolph. Makes you wonder where that plan has been the past three games. You cringe when Peterson bounces off tacklers, but so far his injured knee has held up to the pounding. The Minnesota defense played well at times, but Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson had no trouble out-muscling Viking defenders.. The bye week comes at a good time
•Question: The University of Minnesota topped Illinois 17-3 Saturday at Illinois. The victory boosted the Gophers to a 6-4 overall record and 2-4 Big Ten mark. The sixth win made Minnesota “bowl eligible” for the first time since 2009 and it’s projected that the Gophers, who will likely finish 6-6 after closing with games against Nebraska and Michigan State, will almost certainly receive an invitation to a bowl game. What are your thoughts on the win over Illinois and Minnesota likely headed to a bowl game?
-Dorr: I was at the Princeton-Detroit Lakes game and didn’t get to see the Minnesota game, although someone with a phone that can do all kinds of things was keeping us up to date on the game. When it was 3-3 so late in the game I thought the Gophers might not make it, even though I had picked them to win last week. (A couple months ago I forecast a 6-6 season if the Gophers won their first four and now I’m hoping I am wrong, with maybe an upset of Michigan State.) I’m happy for the program that will for sure get to a bowl, even if it was a lackluster performance against an Illinois team that apparently isn’t very good. I’ve never put much stock in the idea that the teams get a lot of extra practice when they go to a bowl game but, in this case, with so many young players, it might actually help the Gophers. The team is better than it was a year ago and the coaches and players should receive credit for that.
-Marxhausen: Minnesota has favored the run quite a bit more since Marquies Gray has taken a back seat to Philip Nelson. The Gophers still like having a mobile quarterback presence in their run game and it is utilized through Nelson. If the Gophers can take advantage of keeping the clock running and controlling the ball to limit turnovers, they can rely on their defense to keep their opponent out of the end zone as it did against Illinois. They did have a tendency to play too close for the big play to open up over the top or in the open field, but they limited those plays as well. They knew that they could stop what the Illini offense would throw at them, so they handed the ball off to Donnell Kirkwood and let him run through the Illinois defense. Kirkwood finished the game with 152 yards rushing and two scores. Even though the Gophers’ strength of schedule doesn’t come close to other stronger Big Ten teams, they have met the requirements to become bowl eligible and deserve to move on to play one more game after the regular season is over. Minnesota has gone through some tough times leading up to this, so regardless of when it is played or who it is played against, the Gophers could use any type of victory to lift their spirits after a couple disappointing seasons.
-Larson: Through 10 games, the Gophers have defeated teams they should’ve beaten, like Illinois, and lost to teams they were expected to lose to. That trend will continue against Nebraska and Michigan State and result in a 6-6 record. And, that’s a step forward from last year.
Not too many years ago bowl games for 6-5 or 6-6 and even 7-4 or 7-5 teams would’ve been mocked. Not so, anymore. Minnesota will be one of seven or eight teams advancing to a bowl game with a .500, or just over .500, record. A bowl game will be a good memory for Gopher seniors (if Minnesota wins)and the extra days of practice do have some value. Some fans won’t watch the minor bowl games. I pretty much watch the first bowl game through the final one, taping games when there’s a conflict.
•Question: No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Alabama was stunned at home 29-24 by Texas A&M Saturday. Alabama fell from No. 1 to No. 4 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. Kansas State took over the top spot, followed by Oregon and Notre Dame. Georgia is No. 5. Who would you like to see playing in this year’s BCS title game and why would you like that match-up?
-Dorr: No one. I have always disliked the flawed BCS format and really care very little about who will be playing in that mess. I’ll admit to liking the fact that Alabama got beat. Hey, shouldn’t Texas A & M get in the mix, since it’s the team that beat Alabama? I also wouldn’t mind seeing Notre Dame getting beat. What about Ohio State? Oh, that’s right, they cheated and can’t be part of the mix.
-Marxhausen: The top three undefeated teams all can make a serious argument to claim that they should be in the BCS match-up if all three were to finish undefeated. Many games they have played have been against ranked opponents or they will be playing ranked opponents down the stretch, adding to their strength of schedule. Although Kansas State has made a strong argument for being No. 1, Oregon has the strongest offense of the three and will be able to put up more points than the other two. Notre Dame has also shown that it has the strongest defense of the three, leaning heavily on its defense in the past to win the games necessary to be where it is. Although Kansas State has every right to throw their hat in the ring, I feel Oregon and Notre Dame, No. 1 offense against No. 1 defense, would be the most interesting match-up to showcase in the biggest game of the season.
-Larson: It was fun watching Texas A&M quarterback Johnny “Football” Manziel lead the Aggies past Alabama. On Saturday, he was college football’s most exciting player, and on Monday it was reported that his family may seek a trademark for the name “Johnny Football.” And, he’s just a redshirt freshman, like Gopher quarterback Philip Nelson. Alabama is still in the running for the BCS title game, but will need some help. Right now, my dream match-up would be Kansas State-Oregon.
Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.