Minnesota looks to continue hot streak amid injuries

Jon Christenson is out for the season, and other players are banged up, too.

Minnesota medical staff tend to Gophers center Jon Christenson after a leg injury against Indiana at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday. Christenson is out for the season.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota medical staff tend to Gophers center Jon Christenson after a leg injury against Indiana at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday. Christenson is out for the season.

Jack Satzinger

When offensive lineman Jon Christenson went down with a season-ending leg injury in Minnesota’s 42-39 win at Indiana on Saturday, the rest of the offensive line picked up the slack.

That was especially true for Tommy Olson, who came in for Christenson at the center position.

“The exciting thing for us is Tommy Olson came in for Jon and did a heck of a job,” head coach Jerry Kill said.

Olson will be the Gophers’ starting center going forward.

Christenson is still in the hospital after leg surgery, Kill said.

If Olson were to go down, Kill said, Zac Epping would move to fill in. Epping will get reps at center in practice this week, just in case.

Olson said Christenson beat him out for the starting spot in training camp but said he’s kept working to make the most of his opportunity.

“I’m just going to try to take a leadership role in the first string again,” Olson said. “I was there last year.”

Olson switched from guard to center during the offseason. He said that the move came after he talked to offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, who said Olson would likely receive more playing time at center.

Olson said it’s taken some time to get used to snapping the ball in addition to blocking, but he said that he showed he could do it during last week’s win.

While Christenson’s injury puts him out for the year, there are other key offensive players who could also be banged up for Saturday’s tilt against Penn State.

Sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson sustained a hip pointer injury against Indiana but came back to finish the game. He said he received some shots in the locker room in order to do so.

Kill said Tuesday that he expects Nelson to play this week.

Senior wide receiver Derrick Engel, who had a career-high two touchdown catches at Indiana, was also injured toward the end of the game and has been limited in practice this week.

Kill said Engel has an ankle sprain and is “not running at full speed” but will do what he can to get ready to play.

Olson’s ability to fill in for Christenson and not miss a beat characterizes the depth the Gophers have this season, Kill said.

Nelson has missed games, and Mitch Leidner has produced in his absence, notably a four-touchdown performance Sept. 21.

Engel has stepped in and produced after the team’s top receivers left the program. He’s gone from a Division II player at Winona State University to the top receiving threat on a winning Big Ten team.

Senior safety Brock Vereen said the team’s confidence level “couldn’t be any higher” after three straight conference wins.

Still, even with the recent victories, the Gophers aren’t letting it get to their heads.

“Two years ago, we had three wins,” Olson said. “Now we’re having success, but we’ll never forget where we’re from.”