Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, former Princeton Union-Eagle editor and sports columnist Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The University of Minnesota football team outlasted Indiana 42-39 Saturday at Indiana to move its overall record to 7-2 and its Big Ten mark to 3-2. It was the Gophers’ third Big Ten victory in a row. What have been the biggest keys for Minnesota in its winning streak?
-Dorr: When I think I might be writing about a game, I make notes as the game goes along. And when the fourth quarter began, I wrote, “If the Gophers don’t get to 42 [points] or get a turnover, they might not win.” It took more than 14 minutes to get that turnover but they got a little lucky and got the 42-39 win. Minnesota outplayed Indiana badly for nearly three quarters and it would have been a shame to lose. The potent Indiana offense turned the game around, however, and when quarterback Philip Nelson got hurt in the final period I thought that might be the nail in the coffin. But he came back in, threw a TD pass, and Minnesota won. If they hadn’t won my headline might have been, “Coaches steal win from players.” The two fourth-down gambles, both of which backfired, gave the hurry-up Indiana offense short fields of 60 and 40 yards and the Hoosiers took advantage both times. But, all’s well that ends well and sometimes the old adage that says it’s better to be lucky than good is true. Biggest keys so far? The offensive line simply taking over games, the running of David Cobb, letting Nelson get the majority of snaps at quarterback, and a defense that has been getting off the field on third-down situations. One more win, for an eight-win season, would make it a very good year. A quick recap on Minnesota’s four nonconference victories: UNLV is now 5-4, with a win over Western Illinois; New Mexico State is 1-8 and has given up 42 points a game (the Gophers won 44-21); Western Illinois is 3-7; and San Jose State is 5-3 and beat UNLV last week, 34-24.
-Marxhausen: Going into the Indiana game, the Gophers’ No. 20-ranked rushing offense relied on keeping the ball on the ground and controlling the game. Indiana’s scouting report said to bring up extra defenders to not allow the long run. When a team reconfigures a defense to protect against the run, that opens up one-on-one situations down field for receivers to make a play. Seven receivers caught at least one pass for the Gophers, with all of them catching passes for over 10 yards. The running game was still apparent with David Cobb corralling 188 yards on the day, with a touchdown. But, Philip Nelson’s 298 passing yards and four touchdowns were the key to the victory. The best thing about this game was that the Gophers showed they are a dual threat on offense. If they continue to limit their turnovers and keep control of the game like they did at Indiana (+16 minutes) the Gophers will finish strong and get a good bowl bid.
-Larson: I’m eating crow, along with many others. No way did I think Minnesota would put together a three-game Big Ten winning streak this season. And, the Gophers did it despite concerns over their head coach’s health and with him not on the sidelines. Saturday’s game at Indiana figured to be a wild one and it was. Credit Minnesota with coming out on top in a game that could’ve gone either way. A loss would’ve taken some of the glitter off victories over Northwestern and Nebraska the previous two weeks. Quarterback Philip Nelson has proved to be a play-maker. Let’s see how he fares against Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State – three teams with imposing defenses.
-Johnson: The Gophers blew a 35-13 lead on Saturday but came through at the end of the game, with the help of quarterback Philip Nelson, to win 42-39. David Cobb had another solid game rushing for 188 yards and a touchdown. I think the Gophers can finally call Nelson their quarterback. They should still use Mitch Leidner when appropriate. They need to work on tightening up their defense, especially in their secondary. We will really see what kind of team the Gophers are going to be Saturday when they host Penn State. The Nittany Lions beat Michigan in overtime a few weeks ago, 43-40. The Gophers lost to Michigan 42-13. Comparing scores is often difficult to go by, but it puts the importance of the upcoming game into perspective. Gopher head coach Jerry Kill said Monday that Minnesota needs to fill TCF Stadium, which may be hard to do with the opening of deer season. Hopefully Nelson and Cobb continue to roll and the Gophers can put together some big plays on defense.
•Question: The Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals four games to two to win the World Series. What did you like most about the Red Sox?
-Dorr: Their pitching was the difference. St. Louis isn’t a great hitting team but the Red Sox did a good job of shutting down most of the Cardinals’ top hitters. And, clutch hitting was important for Boston. David Ortiz got a lot of press and he did have a great World Series. But I thought Shane Victorino also played a big part in the World Series win and Jonny Gomes also had a big home run. When St. Louis took a 2-1 lead and had two more games at home, I thought the momentum had swung to the Cardinals. But Gomes, after Ortiz was walked on four straight pitches in Game 4, hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning that ended up being the game-winner. Gomes was 5-for-41 in post season play to that point, and 0-for-9 in the Series, and wasn’t supposed to be in the lineup that night. His was perhaps the biggest hit of the Series.
-Marxhausen: What I liked most about the Red Sox was Jon Lester. He pitched two unbelievable games against St. Louis’ ace Adam Wainwright. He pitched 7 and 2/3 innings in both contests and only gave up one earned run across the two games with a combined 15 strikeouts and one walk. The Cardinals didn’t have much offense, hitting only .224 with 14 runs in six games. You could talk about Shane Victorino, David Ortiz or Jacoby Ellsbury’s big plays, but the Red Sox pitching shut down the Cardinals. The best team won.
-Larson: It’s unanimous – the sportswriters felt pitching was the big key for Boston. When St. Louis mounted threats Red Sox pitchers pretty much closed the door. Offensively, slugger David Ortiz stole the show. When the former Twin stepped into the batter’s box you could feel excitement building for Boston fans while feeling of dread spread through St. Louis fans. I can’t recall a batter looking more confident in the box during a World Series. Ortiz’s bat must have looked a foot wide to Cardinal pitchers. It was a great World Series.
-Johnson: What a fun Series to watch. I really enjoy watching good pitching and we have seen some of the best young pitchers that the MLB has had in a while. Michael Wacha of the Cardinals is just 22 and picked up the win in Game 2 against a dangerous Red Sox lineup. Although he picked up the loss in Game 3, 25-year-old Joe Kelly of the Cardinals looked incredible. He throws 95-98 mph, with good movement. I continue to wonder why the Twins cannot find these caliber pitchers. For the Red Sox, 29-year-olds Jon Lester and Clay Bucholz pitched Boston to three wins. I also enjoy watching good hitting against good pitching. Watching the approach good pitchers have for a player like David Ortiz and watching Ortiz just taking pitches off the plate and waiting until he gets one in the zone is baseball at its best. In the final three games it seemed like any time St. Louis’s pitcher would fall behind in the count, which was seldom, the Red Sox’s lineup came through with the big hit on the “get-me-over” fastball. They simply did not miss. Ortiz had one of the best showings (if not the best) in World Series history. I’m already getting excited for the 2014 season.
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