University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler had to be impressed enough by what he saw from the Gophers football team Saturday night to realize that Tracy Claeys and the current staff deserve to be retained following last week’s sudden retirement of Jerry Kill.
Kaler visited the Gophers locker room before the game and shook hands with every Gophers player, but he wasn’t ready to make an announcement about the Gophers situation on Saturday.
But I am predicting that Claeys and his staff will be hired this week.
The big mystery of the Gophers’ performance Saturday was how they could play No. 15 Michigan so well — losing 29-26 when they were stuffed on the goal line on the final play of the game — after laying a real egg against an inferior Nebraska team at home two weeks ago.
The Gophers outplayed Michigan in the first 30 minutes, fell behind early in the second half but then came back thanks in part to a big Wolverines penalty when the Gophers muffed a punt. That led to a go-ahead 24-yard touchdown run by quarterback Mitch Leidner, who played a great game, throwing for 317 yards and running for 37 more.
They expanded the lead to five on a Ryan Santoso 47-yard field goal, but Michigan backup quarterback Wilton Speight, playing for the injured Jake Rudock, made some big plays. He found a leaping Jehu Chesson to put his team back on top with 4 minutes, 57 seconds to go, then completed a two-point conversion pass to Amara Darboh for a three-point lead.
The Gophers weren’t done. It really showed their character when they drove to the goal line. But they were stopped twice at the 1-yard line and time expired, falling just short of what would have been a huge upset.
No, it wasn’t the perfect ending. But Claeys and Co. give the program the best chance to build on Kill’s success.
Schedule eases up in 2016
Even though Big Ten football is going to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016, the Gophers will play for the Little Brown Jug only one more time in the next four seasons, in 2017 at Ann Arbor.
That’s a good thing for the Gophers. Despite Saturday’s performance, you have to figure their chances of beating a Jim Harbaugh-coached team on the road aren’t very good.
The road is where the Gophers will be the next two weeks, too. They will play at Ohio State next week and Iowa the following week, and they will be given little chance to win either game.
Then the Gophers close the season with home games vs. Illinois and Wisconsin.
Next year’s schedule appears to be much easier than this year’s, even though they have five Big Ten road games. They won’t have to face either Michigan or Ohio State, and they won’t have any TCU to contend with in the nonconference portion.
The 2016 Gophers should have tough division road games at Nebraska and Wisconsin, and they also travel to Illinois. But they face Iowa at home, along with Purdue and Northwestern.
There never was any doubt from Day 1 that Torii Hunter was going to retire at the end of this year.
Speaking with Hunter near the end of the season, he said of his future: “We’ll have to see. … If I make a decision today, it probably would be the end. It’s very emotional for me, but I just have to kind of take a step back. It’s a game that I love. I love the fans, I love this organization, I grew up here. I just want to make that decision when I’m not so emotional.”
Manager Paul Molitor and GM Terry Ryan both wanted Hunter to return to the Twins in 2016, as he has not only been a great player but also a great leader in the clubhouse.
“I have enjoyed it and I’ve seen a lot of guys grow,” he said of the 2015 season. “I was able to impart a lot of information and wisdom into a lot of these young guys and see them grow. They applied it to their lives and were able to put it into their careers and lives. …
“That’s what I really love about this year. We won on the clubhouse and we won on the field and we exceeded a lot of people’s expectations. So for us it’s a win. Of course we wanted to go further, go to the playoffs and the World Series, as every player dreams, but we did, we actually did some great things this year.”
With their first winning season since 2010, there is obviously hope the Twins can continue to progress in future seasons with all their young talent.
“Without a doubt. I mean, these guys have tasted just that feel of winning,” he said. “They’ve changed their mentality. They’re having fun in the clubhouse but at the same time they go on the field and they never give up. They’re fighters. You talk about the new guys like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, we haven’t seen what he’s capable of doing, then you look at [Miguel] Sano, you look at [Eddie] Rosario, look at Tyler Duffey, you’re talking about some guys who did some great things this year. I will bet you they’re going to do better things next year. These guys are fighters. They’ve worked under Doug Mientkiewicz, who is a bulldog himself, and he’s taught them a lot of different things. I definitely think that next year they’re going to be a better team than they were this year.”
• To get an idea of how much Jerry Kill was loved by his players, you need only read their reactions to his retirement last week. Former Gophers linebacker Damien Wilson, now a Dallas Cowboys rookie, wrote on Twitter that Kill “made Minnesota something to be proud of being a part of it,” adding that it “will forever be #Jerrysota.” Sophomore defensive back Eric Carter tweeted that he had never had a bad day at Minnesota but that Kill’s departure hurts.
• Vikings safety Harrison Smith spoke of the great performance of rookie receiver Stefon Diggs, who over the past three games has 19 receptions for 324 yards and a touchdown: “We have been seeing that since he got here. You never know how it is going to go on Sunday, but day in and day out it has been the same Diggs who has been doing that since he got here.”
• It has been a rough postseason for former Twins star Michael Cuddyer, who is in his first season with the Mets. Entering Saturday’s Game 4 of the World Series, Cuddyer, who joined the Mets in part because of his long friendship with David Wright, was .091 (1-for-11) with seven strikeouts as well as a double-play grounder in six postseason games. In Game 1 of the World Series, he was the designated hitter for three at-bats and went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. Cuddyer made $8.5 million this year with the Mets and is due $12.5 million in 2016.
• Gophers baseball coach John Anderson reported construction of a new 5,000-square-foot indoor hitting and pitching building, for which more than $1.3 million has been raised, will begin construction on Nov. 16. “It’s going to be a practice facility for us to do some live hitting and some cage hitting, and our pitchers will be able to pitch to hitters inside the batting cages,” he said.