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Go back to the start of the NFL season and chuckle about the Twin Cities media, seemingly on a crusade to ridicule Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer for not being engaging in his press conferences and for seeming to challenge the media when they tried to question things.
A month later, and without quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and ace running back Adrian Peterson, Zimmer is being heralded by the same critics as being a mastermind. With his team’s offense hindered by injuries and newly acquired Sam Bradford at quarterback, the Vikings have rolled to a 4-0 record.
He’s too classy to say I told you so, so Zimmer just keeps going on to the next game, unruffled and not perturbed by media inquisitors. The reason is that Zimmer is proving that in this era of unstoppable offenses, who needs offense? The offense has been adequate, but the Vikings defense has been amazing in its creativity and performance.
As ESPN analyst Jon Gruden pointed out, Zimmer’s defense is impossible to figure out for opposing quarterbacks who normally would just call an audible to fool opposing defenses. But the Vikings line up virtually the whole team on the line of scrimmage, and on each play, different players rush, different players drop back to pick up receivers, and their movement on the snap is a challenge to guess at. Guess wrong, and your best blocker may pick up the Vikings best rusher, but he might not be rushing this time. Guess right, and you’re lucky, but get ready for the next play.
That’s why Marcus Mariota of Tennessee, Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, and on Monday Eli Manning of the New York Giants have all been stymied by the Vikings.
Bradford is guiding an efficient, effective offense, too, but the Vikings are proving a good defense can stop a good offense.
Meanwhile, up North here, we have the UMD Bulldogs, who feature a spectacular offense and a defense that bends a lot but seems to come up with the big plays when necessary. It has made every game exciting right down to the end, with four straight victories following an opening setback.
Last Saturday was the perfect example. Minnesota State-Moorhead seemed to be outclassed at the start, as Darren Walker’s 26-yard run gave UMD a 15-3 lead. It was 15-10 at the end of one quarter, but then three straight Bulldog touchdowns ballooned the score to 35-10 in the second quarter. Drew Bauer hit Jason Baits for a 44-yard touchdown pass, and Jaleen Jones sprinted 85 yards for a touchdown; Jones was going to redshirt, but was activated and made his first run from scrimmage a memorable one. Bauer connected with Beau Bofferding for their second TD, and the game looked, well...over.
But Dragon quarterback Jake Hodge hit Cory Ambrose for a 43-yard touchdown pass and Damon Gibson scooped up a blocked punt and scored from 16 yards out. A field goal, and it was suddenly 35-27 at halftime.
Again, it didn’t look challenging, because UMD got the only touchdown of the third quarter – a 41-yard pass to D.J. Hebert that was Bauer’s fourth TD pass of the day. But when the Dragons sacked Bauer and forced a punt, leading to another Moorhead touchdown, and it was 42-34 – an eight-point, one-score margin.
It was still that way, with time running down, when UMD junior linebacker Zach Bassuener sacked Hodge for the second time. One more incompletion and a punt, and with Walker going 16 yards for a crucial first down, Bauer and the Bulldogs were able to run out the clock. Several key defensive players may have prevented an upset, as Beau Bates had 12 tackles and forced three fumbles, while Bassuener and Kegan Wirtz each had seven tackles.
“We were fortunate to get out of here with a win,” said UMD coach Curt Wiese. “Our offense had opportunities to put the game away in the first and third periods, but we needed some big plays on defense.”
Now it’s a trip to Minot Saturday before two more home games. The victories keep coming, and while they’ve all been too close for comfort, maybe it’s the proper conditioning for how to survive close games at the end.
An enormous victory at Concordia last Friday led to another key triumph at Mankato for the UMD volleyball team. As the No. 2 team in the country, beating No. 1 Concordia in a battle of undefeated teams allowed them to swap places. UMD is now No. 1 and Concordia No. 2, with a long way to go.
“It was a great environment at Concordia,” UMD coach Jim Boos said. “Great crowd, and we probably had 400 or 500 fans, including some alumni. They do their regular thing against us, with a ‘Roast the Dogs’ thing, where they give away free hot dogs.”
Sophomore Sarah Kelly led UMD with 17 kills against Concordia, but Boos said the Bulldogs won the first two games, then suddenly lost their rhythm right when Concordia came back strong. “They played well, but we had some of the poorer volleyball we’ve played in games 3 and 4. We had more errors than kills. Before the fifth game, we tried to re-rally the troops, saying just get back to the passion and heart and desire and forget about mechanics. We got it back and managed to hold them off.
“I anticipated an emotional and physical letdown against Mankato,” Boos added. “We were fortunate to pull out one of the first three sets.”
In that match, Taylor Wisesbrocker led with 20 kills after having a rare off-night at Concordia, while Makenzie Morgen and Kelly each had 16. It shows again that a different player might lead the Bulldogs every night, and the four-game road tour continues this weekend at Mary and at Minot.
Toronto Wild Card
Late Tuesday night, the Major League playoffs got off to a great start, in front of a sellout crowd in Toronto, the Blue Jays and Baltimore hooked up in a tough, tight battle that featured hitting, but mostly pitching and defense. It stayed 2-2 through nine, and then 10, before Edwin Encarnacion hammered a 3-run home run in the last of the 11th, giving new credibility to the shopworn nickname for a walk-off home run.
The Blue Jays will take that 5-2 victory to Texas while Cleveland plays Boston in the two best-of-five semifinal rounds of the American League.