Gophers still trying to get over that Big Ten hump


Gophers still trying to get over that Big Ten hump

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The good news for Minnesota last weekend was that the Gophers had plenty of opportunities to assemble a strong enough game to beat Michigan, one of the Big Ten powers they've been least successful against.

The bad? They still lost at home by 22 points.

So the Gophers (5-4, 1-4) have moved on, buoyed by their clear improvement over last season when they fell 58-0 to the Wolverines but frustrated by a lingering inability to put together the kind of performance required to beat the traditional big boys of the conference.

``You can't really practice it. You've just got to get in the games and do it. That just comes by experience,'' quarterback Philip Nelson said Tuesday. ``I think that we're so close to getting there that it really creates some disappointment after the games.''

This is what happens with many rebuilding projects. They're still lacking the overall talent and attitude to play well most of the time.

``When you first take a program over, they're usually open because there's a reason for it. There's a struggle there. And your first year, you're just not very good,'' Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. ``The second and third year, and you hope you can move it quickly, is that you win some games, but then you're close in a lot of games that you don't win because you're not quite good enough to get over that hump, and I'd like to see us be able to get over that hump a little bit.''

There were at least three glaring examples in Saturday's 35-13 loss for the Gophers of a team capable of hanging with one of the Big Ten's best but not yet able to produce enough confidence, smart calls or clutch plays to win.

-Michigan had the ball at the Minnesota 45 midway through the second quarter trailing 7-0 and facing a third-and-17. Gophers linemen got to the backfield, forcing quarterback Devin Gardner to scramble to avoid a sack. After running the equivalent of roughly the entire width of the field, Gardner saw Drew Dileo wide open in the end zone and threw him ball for the tying touchdown. As well as the Gophers had the rest of the receivers covered, one lapse cost them dearly on that play.

``We had all the momentum in the world. At some point, we lost it. And we struggled to get it back,'' safety Brock Vereen said.

-Trailing 21-7 late in the third quarter, Minnesota had first-and-goal at the Michigan 3. But Donnell Kirkwood was stopped for no gain, and then Nelson was too. Next came a false start penalty on left guard Zac Epping, and Nelson's third-and-long pass was incomplete, prompting a short field goal.

``Anytime you get inside the 5-yard line, you've GOT to come out with a touchdown,'' Nelson said Tuesday. ``I'm sure that's something that's going to be a huge point of emphasis this week in practice.''

-When the Wolverines got the ball back, Gardner completed a third-and-4 throw to Dileo for 11 yards to midfield. Then on the next play, Gardner threw a pass into double coverage that Ray Roundtree somehow came down with at the 3-yard line. Troy Stoudermire was in prime position for the interception, but in the end, the ball landed in Roundtree's hands.

``We're making good plays, we're making strides, but that's not much of a consolation,'' linebacker Mike Rallis said.

A trip to Illinois is on tap for this Saturday. The Illini (2-7, 0-5) are already playing for next season. With a game at Nebraska on Nov. 17 and Michigan State due at TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 24, this is obviously the best chance for the Gophers to ensure themselves an extra game.

``Not making a bowl game is not really an option for me,'' Rallis said, adding: ``We're getting down to the end of it, and we need to find a way to get a couple victories here and go out the right way. But we've got to start with this one game and kind of get in that atmosphere where every game is a huge game.''

The Gophers will likely be without leading receiver A.J. Barker again. He didn't play against Michigan because of a right ankle he sprained in the previous week's win over Purdue. Barker has 30 receptions, 577 yards and seven touchdowns, by far the most on the team in each category. The freshman Nelson has showed promise and poise in three starts since taking over the job, but success is harder for him without his best target.

``Unless some miracle takes place, so to speak, I don't look for him to be able to play on Saturday,'' Kill said.


Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

Quick Links

Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

USA Today Sports Images

Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

USA Today Sports Images

Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.