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Kill Not Buying Limegrover Edge Saturday

September 28, 2016 - 1 Comment

 

Matt Limegrover coached 16 years for Jerry Kill. Limegrover was a leader of the Gophers program from the time the two arrived in Minneapolis for the 2010 season, but now he works as the offensive line coach for Penn State, the team Minnesota opens its Big Ten season against Saturday in University Park, Pennsylvania.

Does Limegrover’s experience with the Minnesota program and knowledge about players give the Nittany Lions a significant edge in preparations this week? “I don’t think that’s (going to be) a major factor in the game,” Kill told Sports Headliners.

Kill said college coaching staffs are so thorough in their evaluations of opponents through films and general scouting that having someone who worked for the opposition just isn’t a big deal. But Kill does expect Limegrover, his former assistant and friend, to be motivated Saturday.

Matt Limegrover

Matt Limegrover

After Kill resigned as the Gophers head coach in October last year, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys was named interim coach. A few weeks later University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler removed the interim in Claeys’ title. Then after the regular season ended Claeys fired Limegrover.

“There’s that natural instinct that you want to go beat the team that you were let go from,” Kill said. “That’s self-motivation, but that’s not going to affect how his kids play at Penn State. I think all that stuff is overrated. I think the team that prepares the most is the team that is going to win.”

With all his titles, Limegrover had a business card challenge at Minnesota. He was assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. If that sounds like a lot of responsibility and work, it was. Early in the 2015 season the Gophers were struggling offensively and the pressures on both Kill and Limegrover were significant. The two were working unusually long hours trying to find answers and Kill, whose workload was also burdened by not having a permanent athletic director, resigned because of health issues.

Claeys decided he didn’t want one person serving as both offensive coordinator and line coach. He announced in late November Limegrover wasn’t going to be on his staff, preferring to eventually hire Jay Johnson as offensive coordinator and Bart Miller as line coach. It was a move that upset Limegrover loyalists but generally was supported by the media and public who understood a new head coach needs to make decisions he believes are best for the program.

Anyone who knew Limegrover, though, extended compassion to the well-liked 47-year-old. Kill wasn’t surprised about his friend’s response to the dismissal.

“Matt is a great person and I think that showed up when he was let go of his job and how he handled it,” said Kill who also remains close to Claeys. “He handled it first-class all the way, and that’s why Penn State hired him—I really do (believe).  One of the things coach Franklin talked about was Matt being a first-class person. You could tell that after the situation he had. He could have come out and been very bitter. …”

Penn State head coach James Franklin created a homecoming for Limegrover when he hired him last winter. Limegrover is a Pennsylvania native and now is back in his home state able to concentrate on one task—coaching the offensive line.

The Nittany Lions, 2-2 this season, have scored over 30 points in three of their four games. With a defensive unit that has been hit hard by injuries, PSU may have to score more than 30 to beat the Gophers. That’s part of Limegrover’s mission on Saturday, even though he will be coaching against a lot of faces he knows and players he cares about.

Gophers like tight end Nate Wozniak plan to greet Limegrover sometime on Saturday but their focus will be on the Nittany Lions players. “We just know he’s there,” Wozniak said.

Worth Noting

The 3-0 Gophers will play on the road for the first time Saturday. About 100,000 fans will “welcome” Minnesota to Beaver Stadium. Wouldn’t a road game have helped the Gophers prepare for a raucous environment? “It would have been nice but at the same time it’s always fun to have played at home,” said Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner.

Tracy Claeys

Tracy Claeys

Brandon Lingen, the Gophers tight end with All-Big Ten potential, is still about three weeks away from playing because of his broken clavicle, Claeys said yesterday. Other Gophers not expected to play Saturday are Carter Coughlin, Ta’yon Devers, Coney Durr, Nick Rallis, Ace Rogers, Alex Starks and Rashad Still.

Marshall, Minnesota athlete Drew Hmielewski who is missing his freshman season with the Gophers football team following shoulder surgery, will play baseball at Minnesota starting in January. Gophers assistant baseball coach Rob Fornasiere told Sports Headliners the receiver and outfielder will split time in the spring between football practice and baseball. “He’s an Eric Decker-type clone,” Fornasiere said.

Decker was drafted twice by major league baseball teams as an outfielder while at Minnesota but mostly drew attention as an All-Big Ten wide receiver for the Gophers. Fornasiere said the Gophers offered a baseball scholarship to Hmielewski before the football program did.

Gophers second team redshirt freshman punter Jacob Herbers, from Battle Creek, Michigan, was a first baseman on the baseball team last season and is expected back next year. Gophers running back Rodney Smith hit .587 as a baseball middle infielder in his senior year of high school in Georgia. Fornasiere said Smith hasn’t asked about coming out for baseball.

Fornasiere’s daughter Katie will be married Saturday in the Twin Cities area to Steve Mathei.

The attitude of Cordarrelle Patterson was questioned in his first three seasons with the Vikings but he seems different this year. Patterson looks better as a route running wide receiver, remains explosive on kickoff returns and even is willing to take a spot on the kickoff coverage team.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer admitted the coverage role is one Patterson probably wouldn’t have accepted in the past. Why the change? “I think he wants to play,” Zimmer said.. “I think he’s trying to do everything he can to get on the field.”

The 3-0 Vikings, who have defeated two of the better teams in the NFL in the Packers and Panthers, have created a lot of hype with their impressive defense that has allowed a league second-best 13.3 points per game. Zimmer, though, isn’t interested in listening to gushing praise. “Typically, I don’t even look at the stats until at least Thanksgiving. So, I don’t know where we fall defensively or anything like that. I just try to get us better each day in the things that we’re doing,” he said.

Lynx owner Glen Taylor told Sports Headliners his WNBA club will have its most profitable year ever in 2016. He expects the profit to be between $1 million and $2 million for his defending WNBA champion franchise. The Lynx has its first 2016 playoff game tonight at Xcel Energy Center against the Mercury. The Lynx had a league-best regular season record of 28-6.

Media and coaches polls have made Bowling Green the preseason choice to win the WCHA. Bill Robertson, the league’s Edina-based commissioner, said several schools will compete for NCAA berths next March. “It will come down to the last weekend,” he said.

 

Joe Mauer Decline Not Going Away

September 26, 2016 - (0) comments

 

Whatever is wrong with Joe Mauer isn’t changing. With the Twins season ending within days, the 33-year-old Mauer is finishing yet another dismal year at the plate.

The rumors about what ails Mauer have even included speculation he has a crippling disease. Truth could be the former three-time American League batting champion continues to deteriorate as a productive hitter because of concussions and aging.

A source with decades of experience in baseball told Sports Headliners he doesn’t know what’s wrong with Mauer but the causes might be the two factors mentioned immediately above.

Mauer’s well publicized concussion in 2013 led to him being moved from catching to first base.Dating back to high school who knows how many other concussions the Minnesota native may have experienced in athletics? Damage to the brain, the source speculated, could be impacting the response and effectiveness of Mauer’s body at the plate as he struggles to be the hitter he once was. Motor skills, the source reminded, are everything when trying to hit a baseball thrown at 95 miles per hour.

Mauer has a history of injuries and critics question how successfully he works through them. As of late, Mauer has been troubled by strained and sore quadriceps. With an aging body that turns 34 next April, injuries could be a continuing pattern for Mauer who no doubt will welcome the season’s end and the opportunity to rest.

Other than being supportive, the Twins don’t have much to say about the one-time superstar’s decline. Mauer thought before the season he was headed toward a better year after more time had gone by since his 2013 concussion. But the 2016 statistics tell a similar story to the last two seasons.

The lifetime .309 hitter, who won the 2009 league batting championship with a .365 average, is hitting .261 as the Twins approach the end of their schedule next Sunday. Mauer has 11 home runs and 49 RBI. Last year he hit .265 with 10 home runs and 66 RBI. In 2014 the numbers were .277, 4 homers and 55 RBI.

Mauer isn’t making contact with the ball like he did when he routinely hit over .300. He struck out a career high 112 times last season. This year, in about 100 fewer at bats, he has struck out 93 times.

Those are alarming numbers for a guy with Mauer’s past record of success. They also leave fans frustrated that the Twins are paying Mauer $23 million per season and receiving that kind of return. A lot more is expected from a hitter who bats high in the batting order earns mega compensation.

If the Twins were winning, Mauer would still be a sensitive subject with fans, but playing for a club that has lost more than 90 games in five of the last six years puts him in the eye of the storm. With two years left on his contract, Mauer is owed another $46 million.

Mauer and the Twins can only hope he can improve his production. He certainly isn’t finishing this season in that direction. In his last seven games he is batting .080, and in the last 30 games .196.

Worth Noting

At 100 losses and counting, there is still valid conversation that a contributing reason for the Twins’ awful record after finishing 83-79 last season is the absence of veteran outfielder Torii Hunter who retired. Hunter was a strong personality in the clubhouse who was willing to push underachieving teammates, and his leadership is still missed.

The Twins finished their 2016 home schedule drawing 1,963,912 fans—the lowest ever at Target Field and first time below 2 million.

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer

Vikings guard Alex Boone suffered a reported hip injury in yesterday’s impressive win over the Panthers, and had an MRI today. “He should be okay, I think,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said this afternoon. Zimmer is unsure, though, if Boone will be able to play next Monday night against the Giants.

The 3-0 Vikings, who gave up just one touchdown in yesterday’s 22-10 win, are allowing an NFL-third best 13.3 points per game. Opponents have scored only 13 second half points this season.

Since Zimmer took over the team for the 2014 season, the Vikings have 99 sacks—second best in the NFL. During that period defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks yesterday, has the fourth most sacks in the league with 26.5.

Zimmer stays in touch with his former boss and NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells who is now retired. “He gives me advice on my team,” Zimmer said.

If pressed for a way-too-early prediction on who the Gophers quarterback will be next season, Ryan Burns guessed Mark Williams. The GopherIllustrated authority likes the athleticism and arm strength of the true freshman from Gainestown, Alabama, and believes Williams could replace Mitch Leidner as Minnesota’s starting quarterback in 2017.

Penn State coach James Franklin and his players will attempt redemption in Saturday’s home game against the Gophers after being embarrassed 49-10 last weekend in Ann Arbor. Michigan led the Nittany Lions 28-0 in the third quarter when with fourth and two at the Wolverines’ goal line, Franklin decided on a field goal rather than pursue a touchdown.

Brandon Lingen, the Gophers tight end with All-Big Ten potential, is still about three weeks away from playing because of his broken clavicle, Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys said today (Tuesday).  Other Gophers who won’t play Saturday are Carter Coughlin, Ta’yon Devers, Coney Durr, Nick Rallis, Ace Rogers, Alex Starks and Rashad Still.

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, a Redwood Falls native and University of Minnesota alum, attended Saturday’s Gophers-Colorado State game. Mountain West officials worked the game.

Former Gophers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson now has that title at Notre Dame after Irish coach Brian Kelly fired Brian VanGorder last weekend. Hudson, a former Notre Dame player and assistant coach, was let go at Purdue after last season and was available to replace VanGorder for the defensive-challenged and 1-3 Irish.

Don Lucia

Don Lucia

There continues to be no word from the Gophers on the contract status of hockey coach Don Lucia. The 2016-2017 season is his last under contract.

Lindy’s College Basketball Magazine predicts the Gophers will finish 13th in the Big Ten, ahead of only Rutgers in the conference standings. “Best case scenario: They’re at least a year away from postseason play,” the magazine forecast.

The Gophers open their Big Ten schedule December 27 at home against Michigan State. Lindy’s ranks the Spartans No. 11 nationally. The magazine’s top-rated Big Ten team nationally is sixth ranked Wisconsin.

A source from Rochester, Minnesota told Sports Headliners North Carolina coach Roy Williams was in town last week recruiting John Marshall High School’s Matthew Hurt. Kansas coach Bill Self visited Rochester recently too in pursuit of the sophomore forward who is already among the more highly recruited boys basketball players in state history.

While Matthew wants a pro basketball career, older brother Michael is a freshman with the Gophers and plans to be a doctor. The close relationship between the two brothers will help Minnesota’s chances of gaining a commitment from Matthew.

St. Paul Saints part owner Bill Murray is scheduled to be among the celebrities participating in a nine-hole scramble tomorrow from 2 to 5:45 p.m. at Hazeltine National Golf Club. The Ryder Cup Celebrity Match will have personalities from the United States and Europe playing against one another. Michael Phelps is expected to be among Murray’s U.S. teammates, and Europe’s roster includes Martina Navratilova.

Ryder Cup ceremonies on Thursday will feature business leaders holding flags including WCHA men’s commissioner Bill Robertson with the American flag.

Cal Franklin of the American Marshals will be making the “Let’s Play Hockey” call at the Wild-Hurricanes preseason game tomorrow night at Xcel Energy. The Wayzata businessman is part of the Marshals group of golf enthusiasts who are unofficial ambassadors of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. They have provided support at the last four Ryder Cups in Kentucky, Wales, Chicago and Scotland.

Most Ryder Cup players are renting homes on Lake Minnetonka or at Bearpath Golf and Country Club.

 

Speculating on U Basketball at Dome

September 23, 2016 - (0) comments

 

The basketball Gophers may play an elite opponent next year at U.S. Bank Stadium—and the game perhaps could be part of a doubleheader.

The NCAA mandates that facilities who will be hosting a Final Four must stage a trial game as part of preparations. The 2019 men’s Final Four will be at U.S. Bank Stadium and the Gophers will play a nonconference game in the facility in December of 2017. Although the exact date isn’t determined, a Saturday on a weekend when the Vikings are out of town is likely.

U.S. Bank Stadium

U.S. Bank Stadium

The Gophers and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority that runs the stadium are working together on details. It’s up to coach Richard Pitino and his staff to schedule the opponent. They are working on possibilities this fall and a famous basketball school like Duke, Kansas or Kentucky will no doubt be part of discussions.

The Blue Devils, Jayhawks and Wildcats have the reputations to attract a large crowd to U.S. Bank Stadium. The Gophers have never played Duke in Minneapolis. Minnesota hasn’t hosted a game against Kansas since 1921 and Kentucky was last here to play the Gophers in 1951.

Schools that frequently earn their way to the Final Four could see a visit to Minneapolis and the experience of playing at U.S. Bank Stadium as beneficial. Becoming familiar with the basketball environment in the stadium, and other details about the facility and the city, presents an opportunity to gain an advantage at the 2019 Final Four.

Another benefit for elite programs to consider when asked about playing here is recruiting. The state of Minnesota has gained a reputation for producing four and five-star high school players. Next year Minnesota’s best prep players will include Apple Valley senior point guard Tre Jones and Rochester John Marshall junior forward Matthew Hurt. Players like that will want to attend a game matching the Gophers against a program often playing in Final Fours.

The trial run at U.S. Bank Stadium possibly could offer two games—perhaps even three. A source close to the Gophers suggested a billing like this: Kentucky-Minnesota; Kansas-Wisconsin; and a women’s game with the Gophers and Iowa State.

The advantage of a tripleheader like the example above is attendance of 40,000 or more would be possible. Kansas and Wisconsin fans will follow their teams to Minneapolis in large numbers. If there is only one game it could attract 15,000 to 30,000, depending on who the opponent is for Minnesota and how much excitement there is locally about the 2017-2018 Gophers.

Few details, including budgets, have yet to be made public about college basketball coming to U.S. Bank Stadium. Nothing, for example, has been announced about ticket pricing, including if the game will be part of the Gophers season ticket package. It’s anticipated a major TV network will televise the game (or games), but no deals have been made.

Worth Noting

The football Gophers need confidence and momentum when they begin the Big Ten portion of their schedule a week from Saturday at Penn State. That should be mission accomplished tomorrow in a nonconference game against Colorado State. The Rams don’t appear as formidable as the team that lost 23-20 in overtime to Minnesota last season.

Minnesota and Penn State look like middle of the pack teams in the Big Ten. In my power rankings of league teams the Gophers are No. 7, the Nittany Lions No. 8.

The league looks top heavy with No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Michigan State clearly superior to the conference’s other 11 teams. Here is how I rank the rest of the league: No. 4 Nebraska; No. 5 Iowa; No. 6 Wisconsin; No. 7 Minnesota; No. 8 Penn State; No. 9 Indiana; No. 10 Northwestern; No. 11 Maryland; No. 12 Illinois; No. 13 Rutgers and No. 14 Purdue.

The 2-0 Gophers are more than a two touchdown favorite tomorrow against the 2-1 Rams who lost their opener to Colorado, 44-7. That seems reasonable but it’s curious Michigan State is less than a touchdown favorite over Wisconsin at East Lansing. Both teams are undefeated and nationally ranked, but the Badgers have injuries and may have been given too much credit for their opening win over SEC power but offense-challenged LSU.

Gophers coach Tracy Claeys will have news next week on players who will be redshirted. “After this game (Colorado State) I think we’ll have a good idea on that going into the conference,” he said.

Today is the 60th birthday of Eric Kaler, University of Minnesota president.

Vikings backup quarterback Shaun Hill spoke like he couldn’t be more impressed with Sam Bradford’s performance last Sunday against the Packers. Bradford, who didn’t join the Vikings until Labor Day weekend, completed 22 of 31 passes for two touchdowns. He not only was accurate, he completed high risk passes, and he consistently stayed in the pocket.

“This isn’t like just walking into a new baseball team, and you’re a pitcher and you just go out there and throw the ball,” Hill said. “This is different. It’s very hard to come in and do what he did. Very, very impressive.”

Bob Lurtsema

Bob Lurtsema

It might be too much to expect Bradford to play at such a high level Sunday against the Panthers in Charlotte but after another week with the Vikings he will have more experience with the playbook and his receivers. Former Viking Bob Lurtsema said there are all kinds of details that a quarterback learns over time including the playbook, route running habits of receivers and who “tires in the fourth quarter.”

Lurtsema talking about his own experience in learning the playbook as a defensive lineman: “I played 12 years and never got the playbook down, and it wasn’t very big.”

The most anticipated MIAC regular season game of the year is tomorrow when undefeated Division III football powers Saint John’s and St. Thomas play in Collegeville. The last 10 Tommie-Johnnie games have averaged 12,300 in attendance, a figure that tops almost all Division II and III programs. An overflow crowd of 17,327 watched last year’s game, also in Collegeville. The attendance set a Division III record for a football game.

Among the outstanding players in the game will be Tommies running back Jordan Roberts. The transfer from FCS South Dakota started playing for St. Thomas last year, and since then the Tommies are 17-1 while averaging 51.7 points per game.

Saint John’s freshman quarterback Jackson Erdmann has thrown 12 touchdown passes in the first three games this season. No Johnnies quarterback has ever done that.

St. Thomas has won three consecutive games in Collegeville. The only time the Tommies won four straight at Saint John’s was 1937, 1941, 1946 and 1949.

The Johnnies won 12 consecutive games in the series from 1998-2009, but St. Thomas has won five of the last seven.

Saint John’s head coach Gary Fasching will speak to the C.O.R.E.S. lunch group Thursday, November 10. Luncheons are held at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bloomington, 1114 American Blvd. C.O.R.E.S. is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators and sports fans.

 

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