Gophers football coach Jerry Kill has a word he uses to describe kids these days: relentless.
Last week’s 23-7 loss to Iowa might have brought widespread disenchantment to the team’s fans, but Kill saw his players quickly shift focus toward this Saturday’s opportunity at Michigan.
“The disappointing thing for the kids and [the coaches] is we know we’re better than we played on Saturday,” Kill said Tuesday. “That’s the excitement about getting back to work.”
After going 4-0 in nonconference play, the Gophers discovered against Iowa how tough it could be just duplicating last year’s six-victory mark. The Hawkeyes were 4-8 last season and 2-6 in the Big Ten, just like Minnesota.
Gophers safety Cedric Thompson said Sunday was a tough day, dissecting the Iowa loss on film. It was one thing to lose, but Iowa gained 464 yards to Minnesota’s 165.
“If we win — when we win — this week, it’s definitely going to be something that can erase all of that,” Thompson said.
Michigan is 21-1 against the Gophers since 1987. The Little Brown Jug might date to 1903, but it’s become a lost artifact for the U, last claimed in 2005.
The Gophers talked big about taking the Floyd of Rosedale trophy last week, too, only to see Iowa waltz home with it again. After averaging 282 rushing yards per game through four weeks, the Gophers managed 30 yards on 27 carries against the Hawkeyes.
“Obviously, we were disappointed with the way that happened,” Gophers center Jon Christenson said. “That’s the way football goes. You can get back on the horse the next week and shock the nation. We can’t wait to take on Michigan.”
They’ll be doing it at the Big House, where they lost 58-0 on their last visit two years ago. The place now seats 115,000. The Wolverines are 17-0 at home under third-year coach Brady Hoke. The early betting lines have Michigan as nearly a three-touchdown favorite.
“Just the fact they almost lost to Akron, they’re human,” Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman said. “You know what I mean? Everybody praises them to be elite, and I just feel like they’re a regular football team. You just have to come with your A-game, but that’s how you approach every game.”
Michigan (4-0) had a week off to get ready for the Gophers after nearly getting upset in back-to-back games against Akron and Connecticut. The Wolverines needed a last-minute, goal-line stand to defeat Akron 28-24, and they overcame a 14-point deficit to beat UConn 24-21.
Quarterback Devin Gardner torched Notre Dame for 376 yards of offense on Sept. 7, but he’s been remarkably careless with the ball, with eight interceptions and two lost fumbles.
“I think he kind of just panics a lot,” Thompson said. “I think that when he scrambles, he kind of just throws the ball.”
Some of this is bound to become bulletin board material in Ann Arbor. The words are being spoken by a team that hasn’t won more than four Big Ten games in a season since 2003. But as Kill says, kids are relentless.
“As a program, we want to keep moving forward,” Kill said. “We took a step back on Saturday. But that happens, and now we need to take two steps forward.”
Kill said safety Brock Vereen (knee injury) and cornerback Derrick Wells (shoulder injury) should both be ready to play against Michigan. Kill sounded less optimistic about fullback Mike Henry (rib injury).
The Gophers wound up using Maxx Williams at fullback, instead of at tight end.
“I probably should have played Gabe Mezzenga [at fullback] much more and left Maxx alone. We moved [tight end Drew] Goodger, and we had a lot of moving parts we probably shouldn’t have had. … I think it hurt our execution that we had two or three guys out of position. Not good on our part.”