Big Ten

Gophers defense excellent, but offense sputters in loss to TCU

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Gophers defense excellent, but offense sputters in loss to TCU

Minnesota is looking to go from a mere rebuilding success story to a legitimate championship contender. Efforts like the one it got out of its defense Thursday night could make that leap a reality. Efforts like the one it got from its offense Thursday night could make that leap impossible.

The Gophers played tremendous, championship-caliber defense against the No. 2 team in the country, but the offense struggled to do much of anything in a 23-17 loss to TCU in the Twin Cities.

This was an impressive showing from a Minnesota team that was blown out by TCU when the two met last season in Fort Worth, a 30-7 win for the Horned Frogs. The Gophers limited preseason Heisman favorite Trevone Boykin as best they could and held the Frogs to 23 points, their lowest scoring output since November 2013. Minnesota repeatedly bent but did not break, twice doing that via the turnover, as Eric Murray both forced a fumble and intercepted a pass, stopping TCU drives in their tracks. The Gophers also forced a total of four field goal tries, with one clanging off the upright.

The Horned Frogs amassed 449 yards of offense Thursday after averaging better than 533 a game last season.

[MORE BIG TEN: Rudock throws three picks, Michigan loses Harbaugh's debut]

The Minnesota defense not only played well, it played well enough for the Gophers to spring an upset on the second-ranked Frogs. But even with that admirable effort against a team that scored 30 points or more in each and every game it played last season, Minnesota’s defense could not spark any type of production on the offensive side of the ball.

The Gophers gained just 341 yards on the night, 91 of them coming on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that sliced the deficit to six with about a minute and a half to play. But after a failed onside kick attempt, that long drive proved too little too late.

The rushing total was of the greatest concern. With David Cobb departed for the NFL, the Gophers picked up just 144 yards on the ground Thursday. Rodney Smith proved the bright spot, going for 88 yards and a touchdown, but Rodrick Williams had just 32 yards on nine carries and coughed up a critical fumble on the goal line in the second quarter, wiping out the chance at a touchdown right when the offense had finally gained some momentum.

That was one of two costly fumbles in the first half for the Gophers. Quarterback Mitch Leidner was sacked and stripped of the ball, leading to a TCU touchdown when the Frogs recovered the ball at the Minnesota 15-yard line.

[MORE BIG TEN: Michael Rose-Ivey among five Huskers suspended for opener]

Leidner was mostly unimpressive Thursday night. He went 19-for-35 with 197 yards and a touchdown. Five of those completions, 67 of those yards and the lone touchdown toss came on that late-fourth quarter drive. The good news was Leidner’s increased accuracy. He completed better than 54 percent of his passes against TCU after completing just 51.5 percent of his throws last season, the worst mark in the Big Ten.

But without Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams, also now playing in the NFL, the Minnesota offense struggled to do much and struggled to prove that they can compete in a game where the offense needs to be relied on.

TCU is one of the country’s best teams, and the Gophers should be proud of their Thursday-night performance. The defense turned in a championship-caliber effort. But if the offense continues to sputter, competing for a championship won't be in the cards this season.

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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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.