Sportswriters: Vikings a mess, Gophers surprise

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, former Princeton Union-Eagle editor/sports columnist Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  The Green Bay Packers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 44-31 Sunday night at the Metrodome. What are your thoughts on the game, which dropped the Vikings to 1-6? The team has nine games remaining – how many wins do you see in those final games?

-Dorr: The remaining opponents have a combined 39-29 record, three are division leaders (Seattle, Green Bay and Cincinnati) and one (Detroit) is in second. It doesn’t look good, does it, if you are a Viking fan (there are still some). I’d say two or three wins, at best. As far as the game last Sunday goes, the first quarter gave an indication of how the game would go as Green Bay converted SIX straight chances on third down, got that string to eight straight later, and then scored on a 76-yard pass play on 3rd-and-6. The defense was so bad the Packers didn’t have to punt once.  And the Packers converted on a 3rd-and-16, the Green Bay receiver crawling for the first down because no defender was close enough to stop him. Also, the Vikings had 17 points at halftime, more than 13 (65 percent) of the other 20 teams that played Sunday, yet trailed 24-17. You say the Vikings had only 145 yards passing?  Well, Oakland had 88 and won, Colin Kaepernick had only 164 and the 49ers won, and Tom Brady had only 116 and New England won. The yardage thing is not as important as some make it out to be. The defense has been horrible, the offense had penalties at inopportune times Sunday, and the team is in disarray.

-Marxhausen: The game was a brutal one to watch. The Packers had their way with Vikings like a predator does its prey. The Packers completed 13 of 18 third downs and were 2 of 2 on fourth down. They controlled the clock 68 percent of the time and had nearly twice as many yards. The combination of Ponder and Peterson didn’t get the Viking offense rolling. Ponder was ineffective at quarterback and showed that there is no clear-cut starter at that position for the Vikings. The rest of the Viking schedule tough and does not bode well for a successful season. The only victory I see before the end of the season is against the Philadelphia Eagles in week 15. They might win another division game against the Lions perhaps, but I do not see a record better than 3-13.

-Larson: I’m glad I’m not the die-hard Viking fan I was years ago. This has to be a really, really depressing time for those folks. Week after week, nothing improves. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson’s 109-yard kickoff return to start the game should’ve ignited a huge spark for the Vikings. It didn’t and the Packers went on to score on their first eight possessions. Ace running back Adrian Peterson continued to be a non-factor. Christian Ponder looked line, well, Christian Ponder, not effective enough to be a factor. I don’t see more than one more victory the rest of the way and that might be a stretch.

-Johnson: I decided to sit down and study the game to see where Minnesota is struggling. I started with the defense (since it was on the field 41 of the 60 minutes).  The first thing I noticed early and often was the inability of defensive back Josh Robinson to keep up with receivers. I recall him giving up big plays in previous weeks and Aaron Rogers attacked him again Sunday.  He doesn’t have the speed or attitude of a cornerback who can shut down receivers.  The other major flaw I noticed on defense was the linebacker’s inability to cover receivers.  They can stop the run but look like snails trying to get out to the flats in coverage. Although Minnesota’s special teams have come up with big plays, they have also given up big plays.  Again on Sunday, they allowed Micah Hyde of the Packers to streak down the field for a punt-return touchdown. I think by now we know what we get with Christian Ponder at quarterback. He will give us an average completion percentage but poor yards-per-completion. He will have as many interceptions as touchdowns (this season he has 2 touchdown passes and 5 interceptions).  Lastly, he will fail to connect with second or third options on passing plays. I recall 4 drives Sunday where Green Bay penalties converted third-down-and-longs for the Vikings –  not Ponder and the offense. You could throw the names of Ponder, Freeman, and Cassel in a hat and draw one out for who starts for the week and probably get the same results, but I still think the Vikings’ best chance to win is with Cassel. I do not see any remaining games in which you can firmly predict a Viking victory, but I do think they will pull one or two upsets yet this year. The Vikings have been flat-out embarrassing this season.  A complete overhaul is needed, starting with the head coach.

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•Question: The University of Minnesota football team stunned Nebraska 34-23 Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium to boost its overall record to 6-2 and even its Big Team mark at 2-2. What are your thoughts on the game and what did the victory mean for the Gopher program?

-Dorr: I’d be willing to wager that there wasn’t a Minnesota fan in the stands Saturday who didn’t think, “Oh no, here we go again,” when Nebraska marched 69 yards in 6 plays to open the game and then took a 10-0 lead on a field goal after a three-and-out Minnesota possession. But, the rest of the game belonged to Minnesota and the win, and the domination, was legitimate. The playbook was opened up a bit and Nebraska’s defense, not a good one to start with, couldn’t handle the Minnesota offense. The Gophers made key plays on offense (the fourth-down TD pass) and key plays, consistently, on defense. I’m a little leery of those who quickly called it a signature win, even though it was enjoyable to be there and watch a win over a ranked team that has a great football history. And I hope it doesn’t sound cynical to say the two Big Ten wins for Nebraska (39-19 over Illinois and 44-7 over Purdue) have come against teams that are 0-6 in conference play. Now come games at Indiana, at home against Penn State and Wisconsin, and on the road at Michigan State. Let’s hope the team can find two wins among those four teams and get to a better bowl game. There is one thing for sure following the win over Nebraska: The Jerry Kill era is looking better.

-Marxhausen: It has been a very long time since the Gophers were bowl eligible in October. The win was monumental for the Gophers, showing that they can compete with most of the teams in the Big 10. Running back David Cobb had an impressive game, showing that he is the Gophers’ best offensive player. The running game was so effective that the passing game was barely needed. That is the type of football the Gophers want to play. After the terrible losses to Iowa and Michigan, the wins against Northwestern and Nebraska were uplifting and gave a spark to the production on the field. The next two games are against Indiana and Penn State, two very winnable games, before finishing with Wisconsin and Michigan State. If the Gophers can win two of those games, they might be able to net something better than the Music City Bowl.

-Larson:  The victory at Northwestern Oct. 19 was the biggest win of coach Jerry Kill’s stint at Minnesota. Until Saturday’s victory over Nebraska. I’m glad I didn’t run into anyone who wanted to bet the Gophers would upset the Cornhuskers. My billfold would be a bit thinner. Credit Gopher coaches with putting together a great offensive game plan that kept Nebraska off balance, with several surprises. And, credit the Minnesota defense with bouncing back after Nebraska scored 10-quick points. The Gophers have built some momentum but that could be cut short at Indiana Saturday. Even one more Big Ten victory would make this a good season for Minnesota.

-Johnson: The Gophers looked like a legitimate team Saturday.  They ran the ball, threw the ball, didn’t turn the ball over, and the defense came up big, forcing a pair of turnovers.  Junior David Cobb looked like a running back that could compete in the NFL.  I think Philip Nelson solidified his role as starting quarterback.  I didn’t realize that the Gophers hadn’t beaten the Cornhuskers in over 50 years.  Know this – the win is huge for the Gophers.  It will be fun to watch the Gophers take this momentum to Indiana Saturday.

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Do you have an opinion on this week’s question? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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