Big Ten

After ugly win, Gophers still looking for answers on offense

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After ugly win, Gophers still looking for answers on offense

If competing for a Big Ten title is something the Gophers are going to do this season, they are going to have to figure out how to operate with some kind of effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball.

That’s not a revolutionary concept, of course, and certainly Minnesota is trying to do just that. But nothing that Jerry Kill’s team has shown in three games has inspired much confidence that an offensive renaissance is on the horizon.

Things were particularly grim in Saturday’s 10-7 win over Kent State.

Let me repeat that: a 10-7 win over Kent State.

[MORE BIG TEN: Defense keeps Buckeyes unbeaten, but offense struggles in win vs. NIU]

Yes, that’s the same Kent State team that Illinois throttled in Week 1 by a score of 52-3. But Minnesota couldn’t muster much of anything against that same Kent State defense, amassing just 288 total yards and scoring zero points in the second half. Minnesota rushed for just 104 yards.

“Offensively, it was a struggle,” Kill said after the game. “We did what we had to do down the stretch to win the game and get the clock out. But we struggled, and I’m responsible, I’m the head coach. You’ll sit here and ask me all the perfect questions, and I don’t know if I’ve got all the answers yet.

“We didn’t play very well, but we won the game.”

To make matters worse, it wasn’t just moving the ball that was a problem for the Gophers, it was keeping it. Quarterback Mitch Leidner threw a pair of interceptions, and Rashad Still fumbled, a dropped ball that was picked up and ran back 80 yards by Kent State for the Golden Flashes’ lone touchdown.

[MORE BIG TEN: Who's the quarterback? Buckeyes don't seem to know]

Now, this shouldn’t take away from Minnesota’s defense, which for the third week in a row was terrific. The Gophers impressed against a highly ranked TCU team in the season-opener, losing but playing extremely well on defense. Last week, Minnesota snuck away with an overtime win over Colorado State, another game in which the defense played very well.

But after those two difficult opponents to open the season, Saturday’s game against Kent State was supposed to provide an easier opportunity for a win. Instead, it was a test in survival. The Gophers passed, but those questions from Weeks 1 and 2 remain, if they haven't been amplified. The defense is great, but where’s the offense?

“We’ve just got to keep plugging away,” Kill said. “We’re not running the ball very well, and that’s where it all starts. We’re just not executing. So we’ve got to find a way to do that better. … Got to find a way to do it, that’s my job.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Marshall Koehn's 57-yard FG gives Hawkeyes walk-off win over Pitt]

Minnesota, of course, shouldn’t be expected to be stellar on that side of the ball after losing running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams to the NFL. But even with those two stars a season ago, the Gophers’ offense was not one that consistently poured points on its opponents. That’s been the case since Kill arrived in the Twin Cities.

But Kill’s tenure has also brought steady improvement from season to season. The next step in that improvement is reaching the Big Ten title game. But that hardly seems possible while Leidner and the offense continue to sputter at every turn.

“I don’t have the magical answer right now,” Kill said. “But I better get it, or I don’t deserve to be here.”

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.